The following offers the first part a harangue directed at the resurgence of popularity of the beard in US culture as a sign of a reactionary assertion of male power meant to respond to or counteract increasing female power. In vulgar terms, the gay slur “my balls on your chin” represents the flip side of “the hair on my chinny chin chin” as a sign of my balls potency, &c. I suggest reading the piece in a spirit of outrageous assertion.

This is part I of VI (or more).

1. Introduction

The following offers various states of decrepitude, but good manners demands—to some extent—making invisible any scaffolding that goes into an argument, even when aspiring toward “full disclosure” of one’s position.

Better manners still would not resort to such underhandedness.

The occasion for this heap arises from recognizing that men’s facial hair—beards in particular—at times would seem to transgress any sort of theoretical assertion of free speech and to become instead an active (if unconscious) instrument of public intimidation. A parody of this position would put it, “Your beard oppresses me.” If at first blush this seems ridiculous or impossible, then similarly any discomfort experienced by those gathered at temple in the presence of someone sporting a swastika on his T-shirt must seem equally ridiculous and impossible.

That this offers no false equivalency (between a swastika T-shirt and a beard) makes for a central point for demonstration in this essay.

Immediately, people may insist, “But my beard isn’t religious, much less oppressive.” If I allow, at this moment, the objection, “Yes, perhaps this doesn’t apply to all beards,” that does not immediately exclude your beard (or the beards of your friends or family who you’d never dream of harbouring oppressive intentions by sporting a beard)—and not just on general grounds, but also on the analogous point that just because I fancy myself a nice white male doesn’t mean my mere presence in public cannot benefit from or have no complicity in the larger structural features of white supremacist culture or that I possess no capacity to offend, intimidate, dominate, or oppress. I can whine that this seems unfair, and perhaps so, but it nonetheless acknowledges the facts of white supremacist culture and shows where we must begin in order to undo it. This won’t come about by beginning, “My beard (or whiteness) oppresses no one.” Ultimately, such a claim amounts to victim blaming.

So, let us suspend any kneejerk excuses about beards (or my beard) then to recognize at the very least that if we feel comfortable that beards do not intend social oppression—that is, if we instead come up with some other explanation for what we think any given beard we might think of or encounter might mean, if we think about it at all—then it is at least this much clear: that if beards do have a socially oppressive character (at certain times or places), then we are likely to overlook it because we already assume beards mean something else, or because we actually believe in and support the oppressive afforded by beards, even if we call it by another name. The biblical patriarchs with their fuck-off beards, of instance, give evidence of approving of the oppressiveness their beards intended.

It is easy to imagine that some people sport beards simply because they look cool or make the wearer look cooler, sexier, etc. Insofar as this makes them look more –er, this plausibly positions them higher than others who look less –er and in that respect can be construed as oppressive to those lesser. One can also imagine any number of beards that seem to function as a kind of mask or shield. Insofar as they hide the face, making it less readily accessible to everyone, the air of mystery or non-availability at least proposes a kind of, “Thou shalt not have” to those who look upon the beard, quite apart from whether you “want to have or not”. Of such beards, one can also say that they imply a desire to avoid the kind of interpretations that the first class of (classy) beards involved. Lastly, of course, it’s easy to imagine that many beards are simply acts of negligent shaving—it’s just facial hair that sprouts, annoyingly or not, and I’ll get around to shaving it one of these days. At the very least, even this completely incidental facial hair is a social symbol of adult masculinity—it is specifically something that children and (most) women do not sport. (In fact, the value placed on facial hair by some women tends to follow even in its modifications the social meaning of facial hair in men generally.) In a patriarchal society, that men have the privilege of being publicly slovenly (s compared to women and children) signals again how even this kind of pseudo-beard affords an oppressive gesture.

The point of this brief survey of social meaning in types of beard—one may imagine others—is not yet to prove or insist that beards must be always and everywhere socially oppressive. It may be odd to realize, but insofar as feminism made some serious in routes into patriarchal/androcentric culture by pointing to the unique aspects of female phenomenology (child-birth, lactation, menstruation), an un-noted sine qua non of male phenomenology (unregenerate satyriasis aside) is facial hair. Happily, this is not an absolute (as female hirsutism attests), but then neither is lactation absolutely only female. The issue involves not simply that one can find some real, reliable absolute about men and women (hermaphroditism debunks the male/female dichotomy, if one needs a debunking) but rather a question of social meaning. And if we qualify child-birth, as a specifically female enclave, with a recognition of some male contribution of sperm (hand-delivered or otherwise), so that menstruation alone becomes a viscerally convincing “female-only” thing, then facial hair as an essentially male-only enclave stands in a similar sort of position for men.

Further on the topic of body hair, while pubic hair marks an important distinguishing sign of adulthood (compared to childhood) between males and females, facial hair (and beards in particular) serves as the masculine sign of adulthood. Immediately, the intercultural prejudice of this needs to be underlined, since arguments about a predominant lack of facial hair in Native American males provided one of the tacit arguments for the “child-like” “nature” of such “infants of history”. In Greek so-called pederasty, depictions inevitably emphasize the beard of the erastes (the older partner) and the lack of beard on the eroumenos (the younger partner). In modern porn, the phrase “smooth twink” seems probably redundant. Thus, the beard denotes not only a distinguishing mark of males apart from females but also adults apart from children. Consequently, those without beards can be construed as children, whether they are biologically prepubescent, female, or not genetically built to grow abundant facial hair—and people have made these argument, both historically and currently, so the point doesn’t remain merely moot.

In those intercultural clashes where both “species” can sport facial hair, size matters. The Greek erastes’ (depicted) narrow beard seems (obviously) less developed than the sort of massive “fuck-off beard” (the phrase is Eddie Izzard’s) sported by Marx, God, and other would-be patriarchs. This allows European culture (sporting fuck-off beards or not) to call the (smaller-bearded) Greeks the “cradle of civilization”. In a similar way, pharaohs (and Sumerians &c), with their bound beards sticking out from their chins, can be dismissed as comparatively undeveloped or childish compared to the unbound hair-explosion of a fuck-off beard, even as they obviously possess some fuck-off overtones themselves—at the very least, one doesn’t want to lose an eye or feel vaguely violated by the phallic outwardness of such beards.

This may so far sound laughably like dotage and dizzardry, but principally because an historical and contemporaneous emphasis (principally male) on body hair and beards in particular already seems fuck-daffy. “All of my magic’s in my hair” or “don’t cut my hair or I’ll lose my power”. &c. It makes it seem like the imputed fear of castration (in men) serves as a bait-and-switch for a fear of haircuts. So whatever screwiness this seems to wander through so far, let’s bear with it as a necessary part of addressing the festishistic valuation of the beard in the first place.

It offers no merely errant speculation to insist on links between beards as symbols of masculine power. Mythology is replete with tales of hair’s magical qualities. An important epithet of Krishna refers explicitly to his hair. Samson (not the first by any means) loses his power (to a woman) when he cuts his hair. The Vikings were exceptionally fussy about their hair and beards alike, lavishing a degree of care on it only now-again being rivalled by Hollywood stars and all sorts of gay men. Arguably, the hijab (for women) serves primarily to cover a woman’s hair more so than her face—the bewitching quality of hair given magical precedence over the windows of her soul.

Just as we see an original wonder of Nature in Her spontaneous generation and regeneration (of leaves from seemingly dead trees, of fruit from seeming dead limbs, of children in women), so hair offers a mysterious and by no means self-evident biological fact. But because males and females alike (in general) have hair, the beard then becomes an especial locale of power for males. This kind of (superstitious if you want to call it that) belief motivated Russians to dissent to and resist Peter the Great’s demand they cut their beards. In Stalin’s time (and before), a beard could mark you out as an Old Believer and provided more than enough evidence to get you imprisoned if not executed; even then Old Believers would not cut their beards. Sometimes one finds prohibitions on simply trimming one’s facial hair, but even in the absence of such prohibitions, it is often enough culturally obvious that possessing a fuck-off beard in itself enhances one’s social position. Once again, size matters. But everywhere, this elaborates a game (an arena) that women (and children) cannot (except as freaks) enter.

I offer this as by no means an exhaustive (or even adequate) survey of the social meaning of facial hair everywhere and at all times. For now, I’ll say only that the tradition of the “fuck-off beard” has entered into social discourse particularly the religions of intolerant monotheism (e.g., Islam, Christianity, and Judaism). I use this as a starting point for the social meaning of facial hair (beards) in our present US world. As a limiting factor, however, I won’t speak so much to the meaning of beards in Islam, in part because what kind of distinction to draw between Islams around the world and also because, in the United states, the intersection of the African-American experience and Islam further complicates the relationship of beards to power.

Ultimately, this point will hinge on to what extent beards (masculine facial hair) afford religious, oppressive significance by accident or by design.

At this point, the experiment of this piece begins in earnest. The next two sections (Pass I and Pass II) frequently differ very little from one another, but nonetheless take two different swipes at the topic.

Summary (the TLDR Version)

If you hate space, then don’t go, but don’t stop anyone from going either.

Framing/Background for Replies

If you’ve read this section previously, you can skip it.

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to watch more movies more promiscuously. Toward this end, each weekend, my partner and I each get to pick a movie, and neither of us have any veto power (so far!) over the choices. I’ve decided to reply, like I reply to books, to the movies chosen.

A Reply To: A. Cuarón’s (2013)[1] Gravity

At some point in the painfully improbable course of events in this movie, Sandra Bullock’s character declares, in her frustration, “I hate space.”

A pity an weird irony that her character never entered it, then.

Hollywood has never particularly wanted for the sort of mind-bogglingly stupid and improbable occurrences in space that justly give the science fiction genre a bad name. And temptation pulls me hard here toward wanting to list the truly phenomenal sorts of stupidity that plague this movie: things on the order of Jurassic Park’s “nature will find a way” as a way to enable a certain kind of (fictional) narrative.

I found the stupidity already hard enough to stomach, enough so that were I not under an obligation (to myself) to finish watching the film[2] I’d’ve turned it off, so that when we finally arrive at the moment when Bullock’s character declares she hates space, it passed the threshold of the excusable.

I write, and I have written science fiction. And when I first started writing science fiction, my friend who had read far more of it than I had declared me naïve in my writing due to my ignorance of science fiction tropes. And this makes for a diagnosis of much error in much Hollywood science fiction.

To give only one example (in order to avoid litanising everything narratively revolting about this film), the narrative (that the director wants to tell) requires that Clooney and Bullock find themselves alone n stranded in space. And so the bizarre (and literally physically impossible) resort of a (deliberately) destroyed Russian communication satellite[3] knocking out all forms of communication between Earth and the astronauts gets resorted to.[4] But this needless resort has countless better alternatives, the most obvious of which insists simply that their communication gear has stopped working under mysterious circumstances and has no remedy.

To clarify where this goes: when writing, we have the story we wish to tell and then a casting about for an adequate narrative means to convey that story. Here, the story the writer wishes to tell involves Bullock’s isolation in space, and the casting about for an adequate narrative means fails spectacularly. In the following, I propose some more adequate means.

Notice I say mysterious circumstances. Doubtless, some patriot would find offensive the suggestion that good old-fashioned US engineering would build equipment that fails in space (so we’d better not suggest that the equipment simply malfunctions)—and if you think this kind of objection silly or never likely to happen, then ask yourself why (in a US-made movie) Russians fuck up everything by destroying their own satellite. The touchy vanity of the US space program hangs in this balance, as it has for decades.

Or, again alternatively, to propose “mysterious circumstances” might right make some viewers come to demand some explanation for this mystery—the most frequently resorted to one amounting to alien interference of some sort, in which case we must now also explain why they have chosen to meddle. And in this particular film, the answer seems Deepak Chopra obvious. However, Life of Pi demonstrates (more or less well) that you can invoke something like “I’ll prove to you that god exists” and still not concretely answer it yay or nay without cheating the audience. And if one chooses “mysterious circumstances” that seem familiar enough to bear a plausible explanation, even while remaining mysterious, then you may not even have to address the issue later in the film. If not, this resort does require some answer but, again, it can prove a perfectly workable answer to have Bullock’s character simply wonder, “I guess I’ll never get an answer to that mystery” and leave it at that. And, in any case, the only possible plausible explanation for the survival of Bullock’s character requires the existence of a fiction like God, because nothing else suffices to keep her alive through all that the film claims happens to her.

The underlying point behind all of this: when the means selected to carry the narrative fail in self-consistency, then stupidity prevails in the movie, as it does here in abundance. And I imagine there already exist no shortage of people (1) tearing their hair out over the stupidities of this film and (2) howling from the mountaintop in perplexity why anyone could like this film on its face.

So this brings us to “I hate space.” This movie has no desire, much less any intention, to take its setting seriously. It serves only as spectacle and pretence, even though at times it provides visually concrete experiences not otherwise available to similar narratives on Earth, i.e., panoramic views of the entire planet. You could transfer this movie to the world of The African Queen and have to change very little beyond the “skin” of the movie.

For those who’ve read Godwin’s (1954) “The Cold Equations,” about a spaceship operator’s attempts to find a way not to jettison a stowaway from the ship (because her additional mass makes a sufficient distance over the vast length of the journey that she endangers it), or even those who watched Apollo 13, one can hardly miss that the hostility of the non-environment of space leaves an only extremely narrow range for error. Once you start resorting to destroying whole space stations in hails of rubble, you’ve moved so deeply into a realm of the astronomically improbable that you essentially negate the validity of the setting.

In other words, you leave space. So for Bullock’s character to lament she hates space seems as incongruously naïve (from a writer’s standpoint) as my friend noted in my own naïve early science fiction. In Dick’s (1969)[5] Ubik, one character struggles up a flight of stairs in an appropriately epic way; this takes the everyday and heroises it just as Welty’s (1941) “A Worn Path” makes epic the elderly Black woman Phoenix Jackson’s walk through the woods for her grandson’s medicine. Gravity gives us the reverse by failing to render to scale the actual scope of what constitutes the epic in the non-environment of space.

So, just as the film disingenuously identifies Russians as idiots vis-à-vis outer space, this hatred of space equally disingenuously makes a straw man in order to plump up Bullock’s return to Earth as profound—after the equally stupid resorts of (1) a depopulated Chinese space station—note the irony?—and (2) a saccharine radio encounter with a Chinese farmer and his infant child. All else besides in this steaming heap, what discourse gets served by this (deliberate) misprision of “space” in order to wax sentimental about Earth as our only proper home?

As a matter of cold logic—a page taken from Godwin’s story—the materially limited character of our planet offers three basic avenues for human survival: (1) spreading out into space, or (2) changing our biological requirements such that we reach a level of existence smaller than our environmental depletion. We might do this by changing how much we consume, by making more efficient how much we consume, but making what we must consume smaller, by dying off by the billions, by inventing matter transfer or creation devices that replenish our supplies, and on and on. Technocratic capitalism, which has levelled critiques at Godwin’s story on similar grounds, insists that “technology will find a way.”

And just as Cuarón’s narrative resorts prove stupid in his movie, the narrative resort of technocratic capitalism similarly shows signs of not working out as promised—as if one addressed a burning house by adding more fuel. Our current consumption of fossil fuels resembles, as one person puts it, “burning down a part of your house to keep warm.”

To hate space throws us, willingly or not, back into the arms of this technocratism—or, more precisely, to those branches of such technocratism that insist we can solve all of our problems at home and don’t need to venture out into space, which I’d brand nonsense. We’re like Godwin’s ship’s captain, who keeps thinking that his wishful thinking will change the cold equations confronting him. The story makes clear (by way of an object lesson) our pressing need to get off of the planet, whatever the costs or the difficulties.

To put it, if operatically and at the risk of false equivalencies, “I hate space” makes itself synonymous with DuPont’s “better living through chemistry.” Not only does this offer us a bait and switch but one where the switch proves worse than the bait.

Endnotes

[1] Warner Bros. Pictures (1969- )., Cuarón, A., Cuarón, J., Heyman, D., Bullock, S., Clooney, G., Harris, E., Esperanto Films (Firm)., Heyday Films., & Warner Home Video (Firm). (2014). Gravity. Rental [edition]. Burbank, CA.

[2] The additional irony: I chose to watch this movie, knowing nothing about it except that it had roused some favourable fuss.

[3] One may read this as a residual anti-communist reflex itself. Of course, only the Russians could do something so idiotic per the US imagination, despite the historical fact that the Russians have led the world in space exploration in every way from the earliest times. Were the film less disingenuous, a privately owned, US-based space tourism firm would have provided the narrative entity that destroyed its own communication satellite and (still impossibly) destroyed communication with earth.

[4] As I remember it—forgive me that I only saw the film once to check the detail—it seems as if the narrative claimed that all of the world’s communication satellites get wiped out by the debris field that starts orbiting the globe. My ears tell me that claim got made in the film, but maybe I remember thing incorrectly or heard wrong.

[5] Dick, P. K. (1991). Ubik. 1st Vintage Books ed. New York: Vintage Books

Online, the original post ran:

The thing about artists: by vivid example, they can usher you into radically different ways of experience that philosophers can only summarize, and–even at their best and most innovative–impoverish by converting them to explanation. This requires more trust and love, since the artist may be unaware that her work is revelatory company for people maybe not even born yet, while philosophy already tells you that it’s worth listening to. The fragility of art is part of its best offer.

And after some discussion about different topics, one commenter wrote:

We’re having a debate over love & respect and which ought to be subordinated to which! I think we may have strayed from the point somewhat, which is [the original poster’s] claim that art’s fragility (i.e. its weakness) may be the part of its worth.

I was asked to speak to this.

Here we go.

I’d wager it is more important to work out (or to learn) how to negotiate such incommensurable collisions of ultimate values like love or respect, &c (because not doing so informs most of the motivations of people’s violence, both structural and personal, in the world) than to fret over the durability or fragility of art–unless consideration of the latter informs the former.

The first thing that comes to mind: I wonder to what extent the durability of Bach’s art (to pick on him as an example) adds to the cornerstones of Empire. We can blame such durability on the use that Empire has put Bach’s music to, but even for we peons in the trenches and outside the corridors of power, to what extent does Bach’s (durable or fragile) art ameliorate our untenable human/political position? To what extent does it make us able or willing to endure the grotesque perpetuation of injustices that the Information Age has made us more privy to than ever? To what extent (most dangerously) does it abet our self-delusion that we are resisting Empire with supposedly political gestures even as we duly kneel and kiss the ring?

And just as we might blame those in power for abusing the power of Bach’s art, we can blame ourselves for choosing, like selfish bastards, to use Bach’s art to ameliorate our straitened circumstances, but this seems to me akin to victim blaming and ignores all of the factors that ever put us in the absurd position of having to use Bach’s (fragile or durable) art in that way into the first place. Or is this itself just another pity pot? How can I justify, even in my “off-hours” listening to Pantera in light of Darfur? What facile bullshit do I resort to (most of all deceiving myself that I “use the system against itself”) to ignore the subaltern’s indictments?

In this light, a claim for the fragility of art amounts to a confession of (and applause for) its will to suicide, its Hawthorne’s yawp of “no, in thunder” (or de Sade’s, for that matter), its Luciferian “I will not serve.” And so, by analogy, to live an artful life means omitting suicide now as well ourselves.

At the risk of seeming to anthropomorphise things, the point requires two examples.

First: I reject the bromide “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” This, because guns BY DESIGN afford the infliction of lethal violence. For this reason, I do not hold guns “innocent” where they are used to destroy life. But only because BY DESIGN they afford this lethality—make a gun that doesn’t by design afford such lethality and that at least addresses my objection. Second: I similarly do not excuse biblical Judeo-Christianity when tries to insist that it is the people practicing the religion, not the religion itself, that makes the problem. Here again, biblical Judeo-Christianity BY DESIGN affords intolerant monotheism and thus all of the human monstrousness that follows from it—once again, make a Judeo-Christianity that doesn’t by design afford intolerant monotheism and that would address my objection.

I’m sure I’m helping my argument by using two large, almost deliberately offensive examples to make my point. But the examples point to the scope of the claim.

Analogously to the above, I do not hold art “innocent” of the human uses of it, because art BY DESIGN has a capacity for social transformation almost unparalleled by any other human activity. My guess is I’m in a thread where I don’t need to “prove” this, but if I had to offer one place where the case is made utterly, it would be in Schiller’s “On Naive & Sentimental Poetry” and “On the Sublime,” both of which I cannot recommend too much.

So art by design has this socially transformative power, does that make it durable or fragile, evanescent or irrefragable? I see no necessity in either attribute—the necessary part remains the capacity for social transformation whether for one person in a moment now or for thousands in the future or over the course of time.

So durability points at no necessary attribute of art but to the enduring capacity of human persons (and other sentient life) to make it, even as current Occidental culture seems hell-bent on blunting that capacity to an inordinate degree. Precisely, it seems, because art by design affords the power it does. I’d venture (contra my desire for guns that don’t afford lethality and Occidental religion that doesn’t afford intolerant monotheism) that an art that does not afford social transformation has already and perhaps for a long time now been articulated and entrenched within Occidental culture. Not only has Bach been co-opted (so to speak), but any neo-Bachs who might now exist have been domesticated. Fragility then points not to the product, but to the producer of art.

At root, not to embody a relentless and thoroughgoing scepticism about how any art “means” when produced within the shadow of neoliberal capitalism seems to me one of the most immoral and deluded things imaginable. It’s awful enough I’d be tempted to call it evil, precisely because it models in the social realm the absolute inversion of all that art should be and therefore desiccates more thoroughly than any censor’s redactions one of our most enduring points of resistance. The dictator beats an brutalises bodies, but no poet in Stalin’s dungeons (except perhaps Mandelstam) ever misunderstood the vulgarity of that torture or what was at stake. We Occidentalists, on the other hand, are daily smashed under a velvet hammer and we revel, dazed apparently over what is at stake, in our vulgar freedom.

One might debate whether the (physical) tortures of prison are “really” or “actually” worse than the (non-physical) tortures of the mental ward. Break my fingers, but leave my psyche intact; or break my psyche and leave me in a corner. I find myself shying away from the idea of physical torture, of course, but I find myself desiring more to avoid the alternative. It’s a bad situation to imagine, but it’s that alternative that we live fundamentally in our current environment.

Durability and fragility seem implicated here as well, in the durability of the carcerally tortured body compared to the fragility of the psychiatrically tortured psyche.

Summary (the TLDR Version)

Twenty years into the culture wars, this book still offers an analysis and a basis for remaining hopeful in the face of intellectual forces (deliberately malicious or well-intentioned) that would annihilate our rationales for resistance or acting.

Framing/Background for Replies

If you’ve read this section previously, you can skip it.

Two years ago in 2012, I set myself the task to read at least ten pages per day; last year, I did so. Continuing from then, I now have the task to read fifteen pages per day,[1] and I’ve added that I will write a book reaction (or reply) for each one that I finish (or give up on, if I stop). I plan also to devise a way to randomly select books to read (given certain constraints) from the public library; this, to avoid the tendency only to read books that pique my already existing interests.

These replies will not be Amazon-type reviews, with synopses, background research done on the author or the book itself, unless that strikes me as necessary or if the book inspired me to do so when I read it. Rather, these replies amount to assessments of the ways I found the book helpful somehow. More precisely—and this describes what I mean by a reply, as opposed to a reaction (review) or a response—I try to focus in these pieces on what I could not have said (or would not have known what to say) except that the intersection of this text and my consciousness brought it about.

Consequently, I will sometimes say stupid stuff, poorly informed stuff, &c. Some in the world expect everyone to possess omniscience and won’t bother to engage in a human dialogue toward divining how to make the world a better place. To the extent that each reply I offer provides a I found this helpful in this book, then it becomes up to us (you, me, us) to correct, refine, trash and start over, or do something else we see as potentially helpful as part of attempting to make our world a better place. If you won’t bother to take up your end of that bargain, that signals of course part of the problem that needs a solution.

A Reply To: Cates Baldridge’s (1994)[2] The Dialogics of Dissent in the English Novel

In this opening chapter, Baldridge contends via the work of Mikhail Bakhtin with the now-dominating (carceral) discourse that the novel, once conceptualized as the preeminent site of social resistance, represents the preeminent site of hegemonic (social) reproduction. In Bakhtinian terms, if at one time critics viewed the novel as inherently centrifugal, it has since become construed as inherently centripetal. Baldridge’s minor point involves insisting that this over-corrects an arguably over-stated earlier view. His major point involves insisting that “in certain ways novels are formally unsuited to the vigorous seconding of bourgeois dogmas and assumptions” (11).

He points initially to the issue of character development, citing (from Bakhtin’s evidence) the pre-capitalist forms of novelistic discourse where precisely the opposite of character development occurs; character development, in fact, becomes anathema to the goals of the literary production. In the “novel of ordeal”, for instance, everything hinges on the two star-crossed lovers not changing as a result of their many travails. The often outrageous series of events that beset them seem intended, precisely, to test the immutability of their character, for if anything were to change “in their souls” then similarly their love for one another might suffer a fatal transformation. Thus, “For Bakhtin, character development, while not the only structural feature that sets the novel decisively apart from its predecessors, is nevertheless a definitional aspect of the form” (7).

What constitutes one of the novel’s most decisive breaks with the past, then, is its representation of protagonists whose personalities alter and develop, usually in small and discrete steps, as a result of seemingly nonpredetermined experiences over the course of an extended narrative. Characters in novels, when first encountered, are usually figures whose biographies have not been inscribed in any other text and who therefore appear to possess a relatively “open” future, in which willed action and blind circumstance (in varying proportions) will combine to determine the direction of their subsequent careers (8).

Consequently, in certain types of novels, which Baldridge identifies as conservative or problem novels, this pressure to develop that this structural feature of the novel embodies causes distortions and contradictions to become visible. Thus, while such conservative “heroes’ or heroines’ abilities to “safely” evolve may indeed be greatly curtailed” (10), because they already represent a paragon of bourgeois culture and therefore cannot change without betraying those valorized cultural ideals, the novel’s:

formal pressure to depict them as doing so does not abate at all, resulting in a situation in which the structural requirements of the genre are at loggerheads with the text’s desire to stridently endorse centripetal bourgeois discourses, and thus in which a good deal of inconsistency and even incongruity infects the unfolding of the plot (10).

For those who would offer critical artworks within culture, this points to a strategy not of depicting the plight of the down-trodden as a means to inspiring social action but of depicting the contradictions of the down-treaders. It proposes a strategy of using the “strength” of the dominant to destroy itself, rather than having to exert all the necessary force to make it collapse. It represents a strategy of perturbation (a disturbing change of state) rather than an attempt at cause-and-effect, the latter being feasible for well-funded projects with massive reach because they already occupy a wide swath of power or cultural cache.

Even if it can be convincingly show that these supposed “new choices” [available to characters in the novel as expressions of emerging bourgeois “freedom”] were largely illusory or trivial, it will not change the fact that the demand for character development in the novel inevitably brought with it dialogizing energies potentially disruptive to dominant structures of feeling, since even if the range of economic, erotic, and peregrinational possibilities in literary texts far outstripped those available in life, the spectacle of social languages in conflict would have continued to undercut hegemonic claims for totalizing competence [by the available language] regardless. Furthermore, this holds true even if one admits that character development may have operated as a pacifying substitute for the self-transformation denied by economic and cultural realities, for the accompanying dialogism offers not an additional vicarious satisfaction but a relativizing perspective on one’s accepted way of life that may be anything but comforting. It is, in fact, the counterhegemonic side effect of a certain form of ideological pabulum (19, emphasis added).

I don’t like the idea of seeming to short this book, but it has so much of value summary would seem to do it a disservice. Though written 20 years ago, it still addresses many of the issues still leaving a wake of veterans of the (ongoing) culture wars—those returning veterans still not receiving the necessary care, &c., due them. Ultimately, it insist on the promise of creating an engaged intellectual pratice that does not permit academia merely to sink into what it usually consists of: empty twaddling.

Endnotes

[1] More precisely, I will continue to read my usual ten pages but I will also read five pages per day of Burton’s (1620) Anatomy of Melancholy, a gigantic book that at five pages per day I will finish reading near the end of December 2014. I have wanted to read this book for a while, but various features of it make getting through it a challenge.

[2] Baldridge, C. (1994). The dialogics of dissent in the English novel. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, pp. i–xv, 1–203.

Introduction

In tracing part of the evolution of the word “vanilla” from simply a flavour to something meaning “plain” or “boring” (often in a sexual context), Murrell-Harvey (2014)[1] points to its history of use in the increasing (cultural) visibility LGBT community of the 1970s:

The continuing openness of the LGBT community [then] not only brought about the need for different cultural and political events, but also created a new social scene. As it was noted earlier, there is a text sample of vanilla being used to describe a gay bar that is not SM (Rodgers, 184).[2]  SM refers to “sado-masochism, a combination of the words sadism, meaning to take pleasure in inflicting pain on others, and masochism, to take pleasure in pain inflicted on you,” as an eloquent entry on Urban Dictionary puts it. Wayne Dynes also uses vanilla in a similar fashion in Homolexis when describing SM aficionados who “dismiss gays of simpler tastes as mere fluffs, who limit themselves to timid exercises in vanilla sex” (Dynes, 123).[3] The LGBT community uses the standardized meaning of vanilla to describe sex or gathering places as plain or boring. One of the many possible reasons the LGBT community probably used vanilla as their choice description is because it seemed innocent. The homosexual community was already, and continues, to face much hostility from general society. Why would they use a descriptive word that would only draw more negative attention to their personal lives? Also, vanilla was and is probably used amongst the LGBT community because it had already been standardized by American society. As it was discussed earlier, people began to standardize vanilla to mean plain or boring since before the 1940’s.  It would only make sense for the LGBT community to use a descriptive word that is already common amongst the society they are attempting to be equal members of (¶7).

Murrell-Harvey cites a usage of “plain vanilla” in a headline from Life Magazine in 1942 (“Willkie Evolves a Plain Vanilla Foreign Policy for Republicans”) from which it “can be inferred that vanilla began to shift from a description of an actual flavour to something meaning plain or boring before the 1940s” (¶4). Yes, though I would propose that the sense here may not point yet to rather than “plain or boring” but only “with nothing added in”—a sense which informs the gay subculture usage later for vanilla sex and which, as a phrase used by S&M adepts, might well have evolved into meaning later “plain” or “boring” sex explicitly.

I less intend to start a debate over the merits of this proposed middle step between “flavour” and “plain or boring” than to extend Murrell-Harvey’s insight further by asking (or trying to intuit) why a food metaphor like “vanilla” got marshalled into making this distinction at all. As others have shown in the domain of adoption criticism, food metaphors applied to people (in this case children) become highly problematic; for example, from a Twitter bio, we have “adoptive vanilla mama to handsome chocolate son” (see here, plus the relevant comments). Murrell-Harvey also cites an instance of a sorority sister saying, “Vanilla men are alright, but I think you need some chocolate in your life” (¶1).

Vanilla, Chocolate, & Food Metaphors

I can’t convince myself that no racialized overtones whatsoever cling to in these (sexualized) senses of vanilla—especially with the sorority sister example—but where a food metaphor gets invoked, it seems likely at least at first glance to suggest something desirable, something one would want to eat or, more metaphorically, to consume as consumers. This sense seems indisputable where would-be adopters refer to cinnamon or chocolate babies, &c., and not always (unfortunately) without the sexual overtones, as any number of transracially adopted girls attest. Even without this, resonance here with the “I’m-going-to-eat-you-up” of Hansel and Gretel sounds loudly and clearly, s also any memory one might have of the relative who pinches your cheek and declares, “You look good enough to eat.”

Of course, a use of a food metaphor may attempt to generate disgust, as Huxley does in the opening of his (1932)[4] Brave New World:

Wintriness responded to wintriness. The overalls of the workers were white, their hands gloved with a pale corpse-coloured rubber. The light was frozen, dead, a ghost. Only from the yellow barrels of the microscopes did it borrow a certain rich and living substance, lying along the polished tubes like butter, streak after luscious streak in a long recession down the work tables (1).

From Lopez (1998):[5]

This paragraph does not feature the only repulsive use of food and drink in Brave New World. Discussing how excised ova are preserved after extraction, the Director of Hatcheries “referred to the liquor in which the detached and ripened eggs were kept; and, leading his charges to the work tables, actually showed them how this liquor was drawn off from the test-tubes” (3). The use and repetition of “liquor” here almost reflexively invites the reader to have a glass of ripened and detached ova in saline (with probable gag results), but that again does not efface the fertility of the image, if the pun will be excused. And, after the main course of butter and goose-flesh, apparently washed down with eggnog, Huxley then serves us a “warm bouillon containing free-swimming spermatozoa–at a minimum concentration of one hundred thousand per cubic centimetre” (4). I suspect that the word “warm” lends this description its effectiveness more than the concentrated thickness of the bouillon itself; again, though, the inadvertently positive link here between eating (food) and life-renewal is obvious.

This all takes some untangling then.

If we could identify some cultural space where chocolate invokes disgust rather than appetite, then this would strengthen the (negatively) racialized sense of the vanilla/chocolate food metaphor cited above. In general, however, this seems more an exoticising (i.e., Orientalist) racial sense of chocolate. Here, it seems not only less “something added in” and also exactly the opposite of something “boring” or “plain, but rather (and precisely) something exotic.

Of course, if we want conventional sense of chocolate as “disgusting” (or erotic) then this takes us immediately into the world of scat, and one may thank Pynchon in his (1973)[6] Gravity’s Rainbow for drawing out an example of the racialized element this may convey:

Now her intestines whine softly, and she feels shit begin to slide down and out. He kneels with his arms up holing the rich cape. A dark turd appears out the crevice, out of the absolute darkness between her white buttocks. He spreads his knees, awkwardly, until he can feel the leather of her boots. He leans forward to surround the hot turd with his lips, sucking on it tenderly, licking along its lower side … he is thinking, he’s sorry, he can’t help it, thinking of a Negro’s penis, yes he knows it abrogates part of the conditions set, but it will not be dined, the image of a brute African who will make him behave (235–6).

As with similar passages in de Sade, or in various trivializing commentaries on Pasolini’s (1975)[7] Salò, usually a certain amount of scrambling results from those seeking safe high ground even to acknowledge they’ve acknowledged a passage like this. Murnighan (2001)[8] presents it as one of a spectacle of excerpts; Wilson (2002)[9] wraps it up as “imagining disgust” in the domain of psychology (Moore’s (1990)[10] Dark Eros keeps and admirably level head about it, avoiding the term “disgust”); the Internet refers to the scene as “hilarious” or “also sad as fuck” without admitting the possibility of its eroticism (intended by Pynchon or not), &c.

Let’s admit, rather, some people have a taste for it (de gustibus) and try to focus on more salient matters—much of the shit we eat under the guise of food anyway (e.g., McDonald’s) may prove worse than shit itself anyway. Moreover, Canetti (1960)[11] suggested that the celebrated German paranoiac Daniel Schreber put on public display in his (1903)[12] Memoirs of My Nervous Illness—perhaps precisely through the only allowable channel of a publication about his insanity—an authentic slice of the (dominant) German national psyche, in its depiction of Schreber’s fear and loathing for Catholics, Poles (Slavs) and Jews.[13] If so, we might say similarly that Pynchon puts forth—and similarly through the only allowable channel for it, a fictional novel about World War II—an authentic slice of the dominating (white) US national psyche.

All of this serves to contextualize the complicated mess of food metaphors, sexuality, and exoticising and condemnatory commentary on the same. It also, I think, helps to point away from a strictly racialised sense of the word as it came into use with SM adepts in the 1970s.

I do not mean by this, of course, that no racism prevailed then. I’ve not studied the matter, but it would surprise me to learn that the dominating racial patterns in the US at the time did not scale themselves down to the LGBT communities then as well. I simply mean to suggest that if we would ferret out where “vanilla” comes into parlance (amongst mostly “vanilla” skinned folks anyway), then racialised discourses may play a secondary role.

Vanilla, Vanilla Extract, Vanilla Ice Cream

As Murrell-Harvey notes, a curious feature of “vanilla” (and her own article seems to fall gently prey to this as well) involves the conflation of the flavour with the ice cream associated with it—so that the not-white colour of the vanilla pod and the bean themselves disappears from consciousness—an unpleasantly apt metaphor. Going back to the “nothing added in” sense of vanilla, the lesser popularity of (and even the need to specifically articulate the distinction of) vanilla bean ice cream, with its innumerable black specks in the otherwise uninterrupted field of white, points to the resistance to anything added in one might encounter. This echoes Camille Paglia’s remark about menstrual blood in her (1990)[14] Sexual Personae,

It is not menstrual blood per se which disturbs the imagination—unstanchable as that red flood may be—but rather the albumen in the blood, the uterine shreds, placental jellyfish of the female sea (11).

And this evokes, even more generally, the terrors of miscegenation, the myths and fetishes surrounding the one-drop rule, and the radical denials of genetic realities that comprise all “white” people as white—once again, the unpleasant metaphor that bleeds out the colour of the seed pod and beans to pretend that the essence (the flavour) of it constitutes a refinement of the thing itself apart from some original not-whiteness. And if commercially available vanilla extracts can restore something of the original colour, now might serve as a good time to dig even more deeply etymologically and remember that the term vanilla links also to the genocide of the Americas and patriarchal sexism:

1660s, “pod of the vanilla plant,” from Spanish vainilla “vanilla plant,” literally “little pod,” diminutive of vaina “sheath,” from Latin vagina “sheath of an ear of grain, hull of a plant” (see vagina). So called from the shape of the pods. European discovery 1521 by Hernando Cortes’ soldiers on reconnaissance in southeastern Mexico (from here).

The relationship of this to European conquistadors amongst indigenous American people makes the racist note sound plainly enough, but to make a lot of hay about sexism seems too far off topic, i.e., remains so deeply buried in the archaeology of Occidental discourse that it seems to have become invisible here.[15] If I did want to try to find a connection to the 1970s sense of vanilla, I’d look at whether the term arose or had more social cache amongst the male-only subcultures of homosexuality at the time, i.e., if it did not get articulated first amongst lesbians. I might also wonder if the conventionally hypermasculinised character of much of the “leather scene” at the time didn’t betray its links to the homosocial hypermasculinity of conquistadors[16] (or soldiers, more generally), &c. For now, if I call these links tenuous I do not mean to dismiss them as trivial.

And I underscore all of this in any case mostly to point to a piece of something like bad faith, or at least an inconsistency at work when one tries to make a vanilla/chocolate/cinnamon and white/black/brown analogy. This doesn’t mean we don’t now encounter or receive “vanilla” as “white”[17] but that we needn’t simply rehearse this conflation while remaining ignorant of it.

If, however, we do adopt this equation, it might become tempting to locate the distinction that the SM adepts of the 1970s noted between themselves and practitioners of vanilla sex in their frequently visible black leather gear. In this case, vanilla sex would involve the “nothing added in” of naked (admittedly albanocentric) white sex. I don’t think this amounts to a very convincing equation, unless somehow all body hair gets moved onto the SM side of the equation and Twinkies ( much more overt and obvious food metaphor) get left on the other.

Vanilla Tastes

Meanwhile, perhaps readers will bear with me if I find fruitless (pun not intended) the attempt to locate the emergent use of vanilla in the LGBT community of the 1970s in any “flavour of vanilla” sense. It seems entertaining to imagine that if anything in a sexual sense might attach to “vanilla” as a “flavour,” then the best candidate seems semen. A prevalence for the use of the word “cream” as slang for semen might couple as well with the use attested since 1929 of “to beat, thrash, or wreck”. Cream in general gives us:

early 14c., creyme, from Old French cresme (13c., Modern French crème) “chrism, holy oil,” blend of Late Latin chrisma “ointment” (from Greek khrisma “unguent;” see chrism) and Late Latin cramum “cream,” which is perhaps from Gaulish. Replaced Old English ream. Re-borrowed 19c. from French as creme. Figurative sense of “most excellent element or part” is from 1580s. Cream-cheese is from 1580s.

which certainly makes the slang use fun, with iced cream specifically attested since 1744.

However, none of this seems especially to land us anywhere near to vanilla (or cream) as a flavour and most semen (except from dead or absent donors) tends to arrive at a temperature well-above frozen.[18] Also, simply to speak frankly, it seems more wishful thinking than any sufficiently widespread enough experience amongst semen-imbibers that they collectively could or would liken the many flavours of semen only (or first) in terms of vanilla (whether the extract, credited to chemist Joseph Burnett in 1847, or the ice cream). Having said this, one might still note the actual range of colours that vanilla ice cream exhibits—certainly almost never a totally pure white, specifically due to many of its additives—and this colour range at least also analogizes to the colour range of semen, if only accidentally. Someone alerted me also that vanilla extract now comes in two colours: the traditional brown but also a clear colour. The overarching irony then hinges on the fact that vanilla itself becomes “something added in” with all of its resultant colour variations. The unpleasant aptness of the metaphor continues apace.

Meanwhile, this apparent cul-de-sac into “flavour” may actually point to the way out. If we imagine sex conceived and judged as a matter of “taste,” then the metaphor that turns literal vanilla taste into figurative sexual taste might finally (and convincingly) link the usage. We could point then also to the panoply of other food-related phrases: a taste for Twinkies, Oreos, Bananas, Coconuts, Rice, &c.[19] Obviously, once someone makes the original equation, others will articulate further details and examples of it, and from that point then, to have any taste may come to mean having bad taste and/or boring taste or common taste, as the phrase “white bread” also attests.

Vanilla Sex & Cultural Misappropriation

At this point, while the mystery seems mostly unravelled,[20] it remains as yet unclear why the LGBT community specifically provided the vanguard for this usage in the 1970s. More precisely, at this point in on Murrell-Harvey’s (2014) research, it seems this usage became visible to culture more generally via the LGBT community in the 1970s. This involves not merely greater LGBT vocalness and visibility in the 1970s but also an increase of print publication, which leaves behind the traces Murrell-Harvey can recover. One might wonder whether the heterosexual BDSM communities of yore ever adopted the usage. It seems an adorable irony that a quick check of Sacher-Masoch’s (1870)[21] Venus in Furs (available here; the link starts a PDF download) contains the word “vanilla” but only in the front matter of the linked PDF, which announces “**Welcome To The World of Free Plain Vanilla Electronic Texts**”.

To hazard an answer why, I will go out on a limb and say that the gesture of cultural appropriation typically requires a cultural Other first to give voice to or to express an interdicted or taboo social form, one either actually unknown to the culture at large or one that (like BDSM) remain shrouded in silence. This appropriation may happen directly (like white kids and hip-hop these days) or indirectly (like white kids and the Rolling Stones in the 1960s), but the salient gesture involves the cultural performance of that which otherwise gets deemed unperformble.

In the present case, though Kraft-Ebbing and others had documented in various ways various paraphilias and “sexual deviations,” the psychiatric category this proposes renders the practitioner of such deviations as safely identified, contained, and delimited; the term “pervert” here serves to function as an apotropaic ward.[22]

To make this point more broadly, one might recall how the Jivaro people of South America would raze a neighbouring village in order to obtain a tsantsa, or shrunken head. This powerful ritual object required binding and all sorts of magic to keep it from destroying the village that made it, but this underscores the original insufficiency of the village itself, insofar as the villagers must acquire such an object from outside of it in the first place. Bringing the dangerous thing into one’s environment involves all kinds of requirements, and so acknowledging the “pervert” as a psychiatric category similarly invokes this sort of “binding magic”. Sometimes (and still to this day), such binding took the very literal form of restraints in psychiatric wards, but “banishing” the “pervert” into the temenos (into a sacred circle or “cell”) of the diagnostic category of “crazy” also affects this binding and thus delimits the extent that the “pervert” can affect society. Similarly, one might find the “permitted nigger” in a sundown town—an African-American who does not actually get run out of town at sunfall—or one might point to the openly gay character in the otherwise totalitarian and anti-gay world of Moore’s (1989)[23] V For Vendetta. These “exceptions” prove the rule, of course, precisely (I would say) because they remain “contained” within the cultural constraints that view and bind them.

Those not so contained pay the price, of course. BDSM, as a part of Occidental culture generally, could only take cognizance of it seriously—and not simply as a psychiatric category—when first given cultural voice and when first expressed by a punishable Other. I do not ignore that culture generally already viewed homosexuality as psychiatrically pathological. Most assuredly, the homosexual got shunted into the category of “pervert” along with all other sexual non-conformists. An (or but) the very era of greater visibility under consideration also points to a time when the subaltern began speaking—having its own printing press and getting its own message out. Or, to add a touch more historical accuracy, the incorporation of the homosexual voice (literally transcribed) into psychiatric literature provided some of the first “framing” of this subaltern voice. Admittedly, a merely well-intentioned framing at the best, that still took as a premise the mental illness of the condition, but a voice viewed (at least in ideal cases) compassionately. Less widely read, of course, were various texts that made pleas for compassion, like Radclyffe Hall’s (1928)[24] The Well of Loneliness.

Not simply the greater militancy of the push-back from the LGBT community in the 1970s against this psychiatric designation—which led, of course, in 1973 to the removal of the diagnosis of homosexuality as a mental disorder—but the increased textuality of the discourse helped to put the denunciation of “vanilla sex” more in the public eye. In feminist (and lesbian) circles of the era, the issue of BDSM remained extremely controversial to the extent that “submission” itself seemed already one of the key cultural tropes or demands that feminism felt it ought to banish forever. Women who sought (to control) that kind of experience often found themselves attacked as traitors or backsliders.

The problem of lesbian invisibility, however, may have left the main currents of this debate less in the public eye than the images of leather-clad “macho” homosexuals. If drag queen had previously provided the “ambassador image” for what homosexuality “is” (never mind all of the problematics this brings with it), then “leather queens” similarly got turned into a kind of alternative to sexuality—specifically, non-vanilla sexuality—even as they remained within the interdicted zone of the “homosexual” generally.

Again, cultural appropriation proceeds from an interdicted Other first performing it—even if culture also punishes them for it (up to and including violent reprisals and death). By definition, such an Other reads as “uppity” to the dominating culture, and (only) political organisation will tend to keep the main blandishments of violence at bay—though not always, as white reactions to Civil Rights events caught on TV many times.

The interdicted Other models an otherwise cultural impossibility or impossible culturality. In the case of non-vanilla sex, modelled by SM adepts (both lesbian and homosexual in the 1970s), this modelling comes with the assertion of its legitimacy. It does not accept the dominating discourse’s definition, which in this case involved (1) a designation of psychiatric but also (2) a designation as abnormal by other LGBT members. The existence of this distinction seems critical, just as Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X (to pick just the most culturally acknowledged figures) made clear as well.

On this view, we would not expect (the heterosexual) Sacher-Masoch to challenge the dominating norm of culture. Once he “forces” dominating culture to take note of him, he gets consigned to the apotropaic ward—“ward” functions nicely as a pun here—of “pervert” and needs say no more about it. He does not serve as a modeller of interdicted Otherness, although his book might have inspired some to become such modellers.

Part of what I want to express here involves pointing to the debt of gratitude owed by the sorority sister who can refer to something as an alternative to otherwise vanilla sex. The existence of that distinction hinges particular on the anger and exposure risked by interdicted Others, who found themselves beleaguered not only by official bodies and psychiatrist, who wanted to condemn them as dangerous or crazy, but also by other LGBT people, who nervously at times distanced themselves in order to take on more of an assimilated (or assimilable) appearance. Under the pressure of the demand to conform (to assimilate), the “main body” of the LGBT community has jettisoned some of its “problematic members” (most pointedly NAMBLA from its national conferences), but also the BDSM community, &c., except that that community organised and pushed back.

This oversimplifies things for brevity, of course, but it doesn’t erase the cultural debt of gratitude owed for the emergence of the distinction afforded by the term “vanilla” sex. “Non-vanilla sex” denotes an always already fact of Occidental culture, even when that culture (1) pretends it does not exist, or (2) acknowledges it exists only in culturally denigrated forms (as “perversions” or “non-conformisms” &c). This suggests that the emergence of the term “vanilla” as pointing to “boring” or “conventional” sex does indeed have an increased chance of appearing precisely at a social locus where an interdicted Other (in this case S&M adepts in the 1970s) begins unabashedly or openly performing the “secret desire” (so to speak) of the dominating culture. One may call this a secret desire, because otherwise culture would not generally appropriate it, but would, rather, further interdict it by pathologising it, criminalising it, &c.

Let us not lose sight, however, that the secret desire here remains, not for homosexuality, but for non-vanilla sex—just as white kids appropriating Motown or hip-hop desire the “authenticity” of that music without desiring the “Blackness” out of which it necessarily originates. Somewhere down the road, perhaps, this appropriation might form one bollard at the end of a bridge that human rights activists (from the side of Black or homosexual America) might build toward, but in itself this appropriation does not challenge the delimitations and enclosures that surround the interdicted Other.

Endnotes

[1] Murrell-Harvey, C. (2014). Vanilla.  Lexiculture: Papers on English Words and Culture, vol. 1, article 8. http://glossographia.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/vanilla.pdf

[2] Rodgers, Bruce. The Queens’ Vernacular: A Gay Lexicon. N.p.: Straight Arrow Books, 1972. 100-84. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.

[3] Dynes, WR (1985). Homolexis: a historical and cultural lexicon of homosexuality. New York.: Gay Academic Union

[4] Huxley, A. (1989). Brave new world. New York: HarperPerennial.

[5] Lopez, MR (1998). Two modern utopias: a comparative study of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Stanislaw Lem’s Return from the Stars. Unpublished Thesis. Antioch University. From here

[6] Pynchon, T. (2006). Gravity’s rainbow. New York: Penguin Books.

[7] Pasolini, Pier Paolo, Citti, Sergio., Grimaldi, Alberto., Bonacelli, Paolo,, Cataldi, Giorgio., Quintavalle, Umberto P., Delli Colli, Tonino., Baragli, Nino., Morigi, Tatiana Casini., Ocone, Enzo., Morricone, Ennio., Ferretti, Dante, Sade. (Eds.) (1998) Salò, o, The 120 days of Sodom = Salò : o, Le 120 giornate di Sodoma [Irvington, N.Y.] : Criterion Collection,

[8] Murnighan, J. (2001). The naughty bits: the steamiest and most scandalous sex scenes from the world’s great books. New York: Three Rivers Press.

[9] Wilson, RR. (2002) The hydra’s tale :imagining disgust Edmonton: University of Alberta Press,

[10] Moore, T. (1990) Dark eros :the imagination of sadism Dallas, TX: Spring Publications

[11] Canetti, E. (1981). Crowds and Power (trans. Carol Stewart), 6th printing. New York: NY: Noonday Press.

[12] Schreber, DP (1955). Memoirs of my nervous illness (trans. I MacAlpine & RA Hunter). London: W. Dawson.

[13] I must confess a confusion, for when Canetti writes: “we have already seen the ‘later champion,’ not named by him, who experienced Catholics, Jews, and Slavs as hostile crowds in the same personal manner as he did, hating them for their very existence and ascribing to them the marked urge to increase inherent in all crowds” (Canetti, 447, emphasis added). The allusion to Hitler and his ilk stands clearly enough, but the phrase “not named by him” not so much, since Daniel Schreber died in an asylum in 1911 and could not have “named him” if he’d wanted to.

[14] Paglia, C. (1991). Sexual personae: art and decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. 1st Vintage Books ed. New York: Vintage Books.

[15] More on this:

Latin “vagina” and Spanish “vaina” both mean “sheath” (scabbard). The vanilla bean pod is a hollow cylindrical container analogous to a sheath, hence the name. Anatomical terminology is often derived from analogies to instruments, implements, tools, and utensils: German “Kopf” (head) originally meant “cup;” the archaic English “brain pan” means “skull;” Latin “pelvis” means “basin,” Latin “tibia” means “flute,” and Latin “vomer,” which originally meant “plow,” was transferred to the penis. While this article makes too much of the connection between “vagina” and “vanilla,” it could have established a sexual connection by pointing out that the genus Vanilla is part of the family of orchids, and that “orchid” is from the Greek “orchis” (testicle) because of the shape of its bulb (from here, in the comments)

[16] Also this (though I’m not so sanguine about not changing the past):

Vanilla’s bland reputation is mostly due to diluted extracts or (ugh!) artificial flavor. Real vanilla, flecks of the pod and seeds in cookies, cake, ice cream or, dare I say, added to chocolate? Taking the broad perspective, a brown/white argument could be made for most tropical/new world products coveted by colonial powers: chocolate, coffee, spices, tea, tobacco, bananas…. But are we tainting the product with politics? We can’t change the past, only the future (from here, in the comments).

As for the past being the past: as Jung (1958)* notes: “The psychic catastrophes caused by the mental inertia of ‘experts’ do not appear in any statistics, and from this it is concluded that they are non-existent” (¶673).

*Jung, CG (1978). Flying saucers: a modern myth of things seen in the skies (trans. RFC Hull). Princeton: Princeton University Press

[17] e.g., “Meaning ‘conventional, of ordinary sexual preferences’ is 1970s, from notion of whiteness and the common choice of vanilla ice cream” (from here)

[18] Here again, a desire that “nothing be mixed in” connects in manifold biological, epidemiological, and racially genetic ways.

[19] I chose the terms here to deliberately keep their “racist” (or racialised) implications intact.

[20] I’d welcome input, amplification, and counterproposals from others. In particular, it seems one could seek additional confirmation by ferreting out analogous matters of taste from or in other linguistic or historical domains. &c.

[21] Sacher-Masoch, L. (2000). Venus in furs (trans J. Neugroschel). New York: Penguin Books.

[22] Shades of Paglia (1991) again here; see note 14.

[23] Moore, A., Lloyd, D., Whitaker, S., & Dodds, S. (1989). V for vendetta. New York: DC Comics.

[24] Hall, R. (1990). The well of loneliness. 1st Anchor Books ed. New York: Anchor Books.

Summary (the TLDR Version)

“A cook of old was a base knave” (as Livy complains), “but now a great man in request; cookery is become an art, a noble science; cooks are gentlemen” (226–7).

Framing/Background for Replies[1]

The full title of this 1620 book by Robert Burton runs: The Anatomy of Melancholy, What It Is: With All The Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, And Several Cures Of It. In Three Maine Partitions With Their Several Sections, Members, And Subsections. Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically, Opened And Cut Up.

This year, I haveset myself the task to read four or five pages of this book per day, which for its nearly 1,400 pages will put me finishing it sometime in October 2014, once I skip the indexes and footnotes that source Burton’s Latin quotations, &c.

Since I cannot hope to remember with a book this large, especially one read at this pace, whatever I might write as a reply to it, I plan to collect reflections along the way, not particularly numbered or systematically, maybe sometime(s) sporadically placed online, but primarily to memorialize the reading in some way.

In the scheme of temperaments— sanguine (pleasure-seeking and sociable), choleric (ambitious and leader-like), phlegmatic (relaxed and thoughtful), and melancholic (analytical and literal)—I fall into the last category. These days, melancholy gets abused as a synonym for depression, but it more arises from self-reflection.

A Reply To: Robert Burton’s (1620)[2] The Anatomy Of Melancholy [Part 2]

Since the last post about this book, ending at whatever page it did, Burton occupies himself largely by mulling over various physical causes of melancholy, artfully arranged in some scheme that makes sense to him. Here, he examines overeating, undereating, and drunkenness, and remarks at one point (quoting Livy):

“A cook of old was a base knave” (as Livy complains), “but now a great man in request; cookery is become an art, a noble science; cooks are gentlemen” (226–7).

I marked this particular passage, I think, to highlight the sexism. As general note, however, Burton’s encyclopaedic approach presents an excessive and impressive demonstration of documentation; one wonders if he’s read all the books he cites or if the library at Christ’s Church College simply had an exquisite index system. Of course, he also had decades to accomplish the work. It doesn’t necessarily make for a rewarding read, even if it is a scholar-like compendium of quotations—hundreds of which have no empirical value whatsoever.[3]

Now, obviously, I won’t tax Burton (or Livy) for such crassness that they failed to note the low opinion they held cooks in likely derives from the fact that history’s cooks consist primarily of women. I can find the point unsurprising and tedious, but still not have that serve as a point of arrival in my remarks; rather, it serves as the point of departure. I would find it interesting, in fact, to see tracked how the previously base social status of the cook got redeemed (in Livy’ age).

And this transformation, from the lowly Roman cook versus those now counted gentlemen, apparently repeats itself in or around Burton’s time—assuming his citation doesn’t constitute simply a case of that mindless repetition of Classical forebears that so marks so much of the so-called Dark and Middle Ages.[4] I suspect that over the years, burton has becomes the repository and authority one cites, without having to check his references.

Whatever that case, what process first introduces the cook as a low fellow and only later permits muddling about in the kitchen to provide a sign of class instead? When I imagine the “lowly cook” the first to come to mind: the army cook, i.e., a male unfit for military duty per se, and one very visibly doing “women’s work” for the sake of “real” men. But the implicit secondary status of such men also carries some degree of affection too, in exactly the way that non-uppity women can: soldiers can appreciate the one who provides sustenance on his/her own terms. Doubtless, with some armies, literal women provided the cooking. Thus, we may hear the affectionate term “cookie”.

But this simply underscores the two-facedness of patriarchy: it relegates women (and the cook) to a particular lowly status, and then heaps on certain kinds of compliments for those who remain (submissively) within the ambit of that definition. This holds for slaves as well, and those who refused to get the memo got called “uppity”; women who don’t: “bitches”. &c.

And assuming that Livy does not simply resort to cattiness here—since he clearly smirks at this elevation of “the man in the kitchen”—I still wonder what social forces prompted or permitted males to start usurping that role from women. And creating the designation of “chef” as something different than a “cook”. And, just as we now find the landscape of “chefs” in the world so that women in the uppermost echelons of the culinary world have arrived there only after considerable struggle against the usual forms of sexism, in both Livy’s and Burton’s example no mention gets made of women.

Because Burton’s text stands nearly five centuries old—though Livy’s comes out three times older—it may seem we can safely file the absence of acknowledgment for what a “cook” means under sexism of old. But again, while the landscape of current day “chefs” includes women, the discourse remains as chary about it as Burton (and Livy). And this distinction of males (as chefs) and women (and other lowlifes) as cooks still warrants interrogation. One can say—merely—sexism: obviously, but this doesn’t expose or illuminate the process by which male-bodied people infiltrated the kitchen and started playing lord in it.

Something of vagina envy must get into this. Historically, prior to males figuring out their spunk had something to do with reproduction, the purpose, necessity, and existential condition of the male must have remained very mysterious. Of all the culture ever invented by early human beings, hunting may alone provide the contribution of males. Because once males started inventing things in earnest, they did so by imitating existing female forms, it seems. Masculine sorcery, for instance, (or simply creation in general) imitates the female process of conception, gestation, labour, and creation—the very terms of which belie the various roots of masculine endeavours. Once Nature itself (typically regarded as female, but sometimes asexual, and sometimes bisexual) got downgrade to the Great Mother, responsible only for fecundation of children and fields, this removed the attribute of Creatrix and left the vacuum open for various male deities to assume the mantle of Creator.

This particular imitation need not provide the master template for all of the rest, but for the specific topic at hand, the showy and grandstanding nature of the male “chef” (as opposed to the lowly female “cook”) clearly provides yet another instance of this intra-cultural appropriation (by males of women).

Hence vagina envy, since neurotically unconfident males cannot share the limelight with anyone else—so that even the modicum of respect women accrued (by creating small human beings, by magically transforming dead meat into delicious meat) required co-optation on the one hand and a simultaneous acclaim when practised by males and denigration when practised by females.

If this provides a sort of vast backdrop to the issue, one may still wonder why (in Livy’s time, in Burton’s time) males sociologically turned their gaze inward, so to speak, an began poaching into the domestic sphere for places to aggrandize their ego. One would think any place where fewer opportunities existed to wax masculine in the traditional ways might exert some pressure, and so we might then wonder again how that might inform our current situation. One may see on the Food Network’s Iron Chef the tokenism of one female chef, relegated to last in the pantheon. And very few of the cooking shows with female hosts have the sort of high-brow cheffing that something like Master Chef has. Males can do things like “Diners, Drive-Ins, an Dives,” but Rachael Ray—a wildly popular hostess—still seems queen of a rather kitschy (i.e., non-cheffy) cooking approach.

It seems no accident then that Julia Childs makes for one of the most famous forerunners of the cooking show—a woman, generally regarded as a chef, who nonetheless taught homemakers how to cook fancy at home. The pattern offers no mystery: where the (social) function of the “woman as chef” plays the role of enhancing the domesticity of the “woman as cook in the home,” then Childs almost necessarily must receive the mantle of approval and designation of chef, but she gets to do so only so long as no other woman gets granted such exceptional status. She comprises a circumscribed Other, who did not try (in principle) outside of her carefully circumscribed role.

Of course, she proved much more interesting than that, but the official discourse still clung around her. For the women on the Food Network, it remains a much farther reach to get called a chef. A mere moment’s reflection, and they can fall from “chef” to “reality TV entertainer”—and this, without pointing to the spectacular implosion of Paula Dean, who never (so far as I can tell) had the imprimatur of “chef” in the first place. The vulgarity of capitalism wants to pretends first and foremost that a female “chef” has a pretty face. And in the improbable—and probably rigged from the start—outcome to one season’s search for a new Iron Chef, one could guess from the start that the elimination would take out first Elizabeth Faulkner, then Amanda Freitag, leaving Alex Guarnaschelli to take the laurel. A friend of mine declared it “embarrassing to watch” in the sense that the show had to pretend it arrived validly at its conclusion.

However this all works out, it seems a beautiful or grotesque irony that so many (male) chefs wax beatific about their earliest experiences with their mothers in the kitchen. The story has a trite (and probably often deliberate) sentimental appeal as a piece of discourse and rhetoric but it remains telling in its deployment nonetheless. And we might wonder if the age of TV and the specific kind of celebrity it can generate did not open all over again the same sort of social channel that Livy and Burton noted in their days.

As a final note on this, if seemingly by a roundabout path (its sense will become clear): Jung (1976)[5] notes that “the bull-anima appears to be decidedly feminine. In astrology Taurus, too, is a House of Venus” (¶662). Furthermore:

Like the sacrificial bull, fire … has a feminine nature in Chinese philosophy, according to one of the commentators on the Chuang-tzu (350 B.C.): “The heart spirit is called Chi. He I dressed in bright red, resembling fire, and in appearance is like a lovely, attractive maiden.” The Book of Rites says: “Wood is burnt in the flames for the Au spirit. This sacrifice to Au is a sacrifice to the world women who are dead.’ These hearth and fire spirits are the souls of departed cooks and are therefore referred to as “old women.” The god of kitchens grew out of this pre-Buddhistic tradition and later, as a man, became the ruler of the family and the link between it and heaven. In this way the original female fire-spirit became a sort of Logos and mediator (¶663).

This would seem to get us into the thick of this particular kind of transformation.

Endnotes

[1] If you’ve read this already in my other book replies, you can skip it. Otherwise: two years ago in 2012, I set myself the task to read at least ten pages per day; last year, I did so. Continuing from then, I now have the task to read fifteen pages per day, and I’ve added that I will write a book reaction (or reply) for each one that I finish (or give up on, if I stop). I plan also to devise a way to randomly select books to read (given certain constraints) from the public library; this, to avoid the tendency only to read books that pique my already existing interests. These replies will not be Amazon-type reviews, with synopses, background research done on the author or the book itself, unless that strikes me as necessary or if the book inspired me to do so when I read it. Rather, these replies amount to assessments of the ways I found the book helpful somehow. More precisely—and this describes what I mean by a reply, as opposed to a reaction (review) or a response—I try to focus in these pieces on what I could not have said (or would not have known what to say) except that the intersection of this text and my consciousness brought it about. Consequently, I will sometimes say stupid stuff, poorly informed stuff, &c. Some in the world expect everyone to possess omniscience and won’t bother to engage in a human dialogue toward divining how to make the world a better place. To the extent that each reply I offer provides a I found this helpful in this book, then it becomes up to us (you, me, us) to correct, refine, trash and start over, or do something else we see as potentially helpful as part of attempting to make our world a better place. If you won’t bother to take up your end of that bargain, that signals of course part of the problem that needs a solution.

[2] Burton, R. (1620). The anatomy of melancholy, what it is: with all the kinds, causes, symptomes, prognostickes, and several cures of it. in three maine partitions with their several sections, members, and subsections. philosophically, medicinally, historically, opened and cut up . New York: New York Review of Books.

[3] All of the divergent medical opinions based on the humours for instance. I say this not because physicians of olde could accomplish nothing using this diagnostic language, but only to note that Burton’s detailed reiteration in places of things like the debate between Exstocrates and Zanzomanger whether the plum consists of a cold and wet humour or a warm and wet one seems of an only highly specialized interest at this point.

[4] And may inform much of Burton’s collocatory assembling.

[5] Jung, C. G. (1976). Symbols of transformation: an analysis of the prelude to a case of schizophrenia. (Collected Works Vol. 3, 2d ed., trans. RFC Hull). Princeton: Princeton University Press

This originated as a response to an online posting, but then articulated out into something bigger.

It addresses the structural (socio-cultural) constraints on bisexuality in males, particularly those seen as (or accused of) cheating on their partner. I focus on males because I know the male experience better and hope that ignorances on my part do not ruin whatever I might claim for the male experience.  I have two fundamental points to make, even as this meditation tracks over several themes:

  • I want to resist identifying as bisexuality any opportunistic or pragmatic bisexual behaviour especially by otherwise heterosexual (married) males;
  • I want to propose as socially just and necessary the articulation socio-cultural forms of the “home” (as the main site of social reproduction in our culture) that honour the full expression of bisexuality

“Bisexuality” or “Cheating”?

Let me pretend for moment that only two kinds of men exist who seek out extramarital encounters with other perceived male-bodied individuals: (1) those who are not strictly heterosexual in some sense and would claim a genuine desire for such encounters with other men, and (2) those who pragmatically or opportunistically use non-heterosexual males as an additional sexual outlet.

The reality of (heterosexual) married life may often involve unequal sexual appetites. The stereotype makes men the horn-dogs; patriarchy makes women into virtual or actual or tacit victims of domestic rape or at the very least sexual encounters that become extremely problematic, where the consent given (by women) often seems (very) coerced. &c. Men who aren’t dirt-bags may desire to avoid such coercion and thus wind up going outside of the marriage.

In Vietnam for instance (and elsewhere I assume, but I’ve seen it first-hand in Vietnam), this “cheating” becomes formalized in male patronage at massage parlours. Wives sometimes will resort to a public social gesture to “co-sign” this: the husband declares he intends to go to the massage parlour with his friends, and the wife gently scolds him, “No happy ending.” The husband, of course, agrees to this. And then events take their course. This gesture allows the wife to save social face, allows the husband to obtain the sexual activity he desires, and the marriage (which may have been arranged anyway) does not get threatened.

In fact, both the arranged character of many marriages (or the social inertia that still exists from traditions of arranged marriage in the past), along with the actual commitment of Vietnamese parents to place to continuance and welfare of the family nest above all else, makes this arrangement rational, precisely because of likely unequal sex drives in people in the house. None of this precludes any critique the economics of prostitution in all of this, or that one might ask what social structures exist to gratify the sexual desire of wives (none would give me an answer to that). In general, we see that massage parlours subsidise marital relations in the home.

We don’t have anything so structurally formal in the United States. Prior to the Internet hook-up, finding one’s way to the Red Light district could likely seem perilous, the cost might prove prohibitive, and sometimes something like a massage parlour (and/or a brothel) did exist. The conceit involved in all of this requires in part a plausible cover: in Vietnam, one gets a massage (not a happy ending); one simply visits the gentleman’s club (the brothel) for socializing, &c. Again, I suggest this plausible cover involves face-saving in part for the wife, being able to public avow her husband remains faithful, whatever the open secret of massage parlours, brothels, and Red Light districts. And this as well, in part, because women and men have historically allowed themselves often to dismiss sex with prostitutes as “not real” (in part because “good people” scorn prostitutes as “bad women”); such sexual activity then provides mere release for the patron and a safeguard against jealousy or threat on the part of one’s partner, &c.

In this light, the putatively “bisexual” hook-up may be read in at least one strictly opportunistic and pragmatic way. Of course, this requires sufficient pragmatism or opportunism in the male spouse to not mind that the mouth he gets off in attaches to another male or that the hairy ass he ploughs seems slightly less than stereotypically feminine. This suggests, I’d venture, that getting off on oral intercourse probably makes by far the more common dalliance.

In any case, I would not call this kind of opportunistic hook-up bisexual just yet. In a similar way, some men in prison will propose that another inmate “knock the dust off” (whether that other inmate serves as a “prison bitch,” positions himself as an out drag queen in prison, a gay guy who “passes” as straight, or any other male willing to do it for whatever reason: out of curiosity, for money, for tobacco, to forestall violence, &c). These pragmatic or opportunistic sex-seekers, upon their release, my well revert to women-only status again and see nothing inconsistent about their claim, “I’m straight.” And rightly so. I would hesitate to call this behaviour bisexual just yet.

The era of the Internet hook-up particularly enables these sorts of pragmatic and opportunistic encounters. If previously, finding the Red Light district and the cost of prostitutes put up obstacles for males, now one can easily find (or can relatively easily locate and identify) any number of enthusiastic volunteers just by trolling Craigslist or similar sites or lists. Of course, one may find heterosexual hook-ups that way too, but these destroy the “plausible deniability” aspect of such dalliances.

The “heterosexual” husband who meets some random guy has a hundred likely excuses for doing so, and the spouse’s suspicion “you were having sex” likely doesn’t come up as a first response. &c. So, in this case (just as massage parlours in Vietnam subsidize marital relations), here actually homosexual or bisexual males get used in random Internet hook-ups by heterosexual males to subside marital relations in our culture. The main distinction of this, as compared to having a queen on the side (or an octoroon of yore), shows up in the wholly temporary character of the encounter. It functions like prostitution but without cash. And so, as also with prostitution, what one pays for involves not the services rendered but the “right” to walk away afterward without any demand or continuing obligation on the one rendering the service.

I remain disinclined to call any of this behaviour “bisexual,” mostly out of respect to bisexuals and the bisexual identity.

Whatever pragmatism or sexual opportunism that heterosexual and homosexual people might exhibit from time to time, we respect their sexuality by understanding it as a significant (or even core) part of their identity as a human being. So unless we extend that same presumptive respect to bisexuals, then we slander their experience by equating it with the pragmatic or opportunistic behaviour of certain (married or incarcerated) men.[1] This brings into the picture—less or more incidentally—the betrayal (the “cheating”) that such extramarital shenanigans involve and unfairly imputes it as (or it gets taking as imputing) a general character trait of bisexuals overall: a group of people historically looked at sideways as refusing to ally unambiguously with either “gay” or “straight” in the first place.

Why Hate Bi?

Our culture (we’re not alone in this) posits general a resistance, if not outright hostility, to bisexuality. Why?

I suggest one root of this comes from our (cultural) conflation of procreation and social reproduction (in the family). By social reproduction, I mean all of the cultural practices and exigencies that support and enable the production of the next generation of people. Procreation, as the literal biological reproduction of that next generation, then gets conflated with social reproduction, and thus the heterosexual family (narrowly or broadly conceived) becomes the stridently defended necessity for achieving social reproduction. Lately, the LGBT community has made clear the heterosexual presumption in this conflation as unnecessary, since social reproduction of the next generation may occur without procreation as a necessary element in any given family (e.g., because homosexuals may adopt).

This burdens the notion of the nuclear family—one the most toxic and radioactive inventions in the history of humankind, says Dr Patch Adams—with the demand that any two individuals must provide any and all resources necessary for such social reproduction (for the raising of the next generation). In days of yore (and still in many places in the world, of course), extended families provided these necessary supports. But under the nuclear family, we must stand generally on our own.

The more or less formally arranged marriages (or cultural inertia stemming from those traditions) made it unambiguously clear that marriage could not (even would not) serve as the site for the full (or even satisfactory) gratification of every human need, including the sexual—such that brothels, massage parlours, and the like became social necessities in cultures all over the world.[2]

We see this “inadequacy” of marriage as an inherent part of it—that placing the burden of fulfilling all possible human desires on a single person (the spouse) in a relationship makes for an untenable claim much less an infeasible desire. In days of yore, lords and ladies did expected neither to spend 24/7 with their mate nor that every need (sexual, intellectual, spiritual, &c) would get met by the other. Rather, these various desires got “farmed out” into the social structure per the desires of those involved:[3] the café culture of men, for instance, as a form of intellectual gratification, and the craft circles (or meetings in the home over domestic work) for women—something one still sees in many places in Vietnam (and elsewhere around the world), but not so much here. Women, paralleling the covert behaviour of males, must hire a maid to knock the dust off (literally). A woman recently confessed embarrassment to me that she even wanted to hire a maid to clean her house. The parallels (with male cheating) seem intriguing here. Meanwhile, even these days while we may pay lip services to the hopelessly romantic notion of “you and me 24/7” the reality of long-term relationships shows that what makes for a stable home-life involves ensuring the re-production of whatever “core” forms the household.

For me and my mate, for instance, this involves maintaining a certain emotional sweetness and succour that the rest of the world does not supply. I can go out into the knock-about world but then come home to a place where (as one woman professor put it) “I can feel loved.” This can form the core of our relationship, in part because we have no children.

Once we attempt to generate a social environment where the nuclear family must bear the burden for the entire social reproduction of the world along with the welfare of the child—as opposed to that truly wise African observation that it takes a village to raise a child—then we enter into a zone of inevitable desperation, which gets staved off primarily (if not only) by externalising the costs of that social reproduction onto the backs of others. The notion of “cheating” becomes rationalized because the ideology of the nuclear family doesn’t or won’t acknowledge the inability of the nuclear family to supply every necessity for social reproduction.

This must hardly seem controversial. Even the ideology of the nuclear family acknowledges that one (or now both partners) must go out of the home to work (ignoring along the way how domestic work in the home subsidises such going out).[4]

These factors, then—and especially the (romantic) ideology of the nuclear family—con tribute to the demonization of bisexuality and makes the social enactment of bisexuality (for bisexuals) problematic.

A requirement for “fidelity” in marriages (especially in the past) involved not only reputation and face-saving (as the Vietnamese examples show) but also no disruption to the fabric of social reproduction that a marriage primarily served to enact. Saying this, we must remember that marriage proposed a (sometimes overwhelmingly) extensive set of social relations and obligations; the very fact of the sometimes assumed legitimacy of adoption as a practice (as a non-biologically related case of child-acquisition in the home) shows that the primary emphasis of marriage does not centre on literal, biological reproduction but on the wider social character of marriage. With the rise of bourgeois ideology and even more so the ideology of the nuclear family, however, the demand for fidelity shifts from supporting these socio-structural aspect of marriage and devolves into something non-social, i.e., into a merely personal or individual affair. Thus, when you “betray” me in a modern relationship or marriage, I will feel entitled to break up the home and put in peril the welfare of the children for selfish reasons.

By definition, the bisexual person overtly declares a sexual orientation also towards someone not his or her spouse. Thus, bisexual people may never be rid of this suspicion that they threaten to break up the home—thus, the animus toward bisexuality, but let us keep in mind our “modern” context. In days of yore, the husband who wanted a masculine dalliance could have done so on the same grounds he might visit a massage parlour, because the “ultimate value” in the marriage involves the maintenance of the site of social reproduction (the home, marital relations) and not the “feelings” of the spouse.

These days, a spouse may fret about her husband getting something on the side (or she may be grateful for it), but that worry gets diminished so long as that urge finds its outlet in denigrated outlets (i.e., with “whores”). Again, a very great deal of this sort of thing seems to involve assuring that no wound get inflicted against one’s sense of security about the home—just as the Vietnamese wife makes the gesture, “No happy ending.” She knows better, but the social world she inhabits wants to hear her admonishment along with the reassurance given by the husband that he intends only to get a massage.

I know of one married couple (perhaps it matters that the wife hails from Vietnam) where the wife specifically commanded her husband to “go to the whores” rather than pester her for sex after the birth of their son. While many spouses might find these extramarital services disgusting or troubling—demanding instead that people should just shut off their sexual desires in some way (we might explore and wonder over the merit of such a proposal)—such dalliances do serve the instrumental end of supporting the marital setting.[5]

But with the person of a bisexual orientation, it becomes more difficult often for the ideology of the nuclear family to reassure itself. Whatever slightly queasy consolations heterosexuals might offer themselves about the unregenerate character of their spouse’s (depraved) sexuality (“men are dogs”), we at least find social techniques and institutions that service those urges, as described above. This provides (or can provide) some domestic peace of mind.

But when one lives constantly with the awareness that one’s spouse has a whole other portion of their sexuality that the domestic (marital) setting cannot address or even honour (except by demanding one nobly not indulge in it), then it becomes much, much harder to feel reassured that extramarital resorts will defuse, rather than exacerbate, that desire. True, a husband might fall in love with a prostitute, but the odds remain statistically much lower that she would actually run away with him as compared to the same risks with a mistress. In a way, the prostitute and the wife become allies of a sort in the perpetuation of the domestic sphere—the wife “permitting” her husband the dalliance, and the prostitute “guaranteeing” not to run off with the husband.

Not so much, then, when the husband trolls amongst the enthusiastic male volunteers on Craigslist. Moreover, it must finally seem a very tenuous proposition to pretend that this kind of “random hook-up” would actually and for all time satisfy a spouse’s authentic bisexual strivings.

The Absence of Sociostructural Support for Bisexuality

At root, then, the (bourgeois, or “nuclear family”) demand for monogamy becomes or remains expressly hostile to bisexuality. It implicitly demands (and trumpets as highly noble) the total denial of it as the partner simply never practices that bisexuality, on the one hand, or it at best only “allows” or “suffers” “casual hook-ups” as an “outlet,” as if that might ever hope to meet in the long-run a genuine desire on the bisexual’s person’s part. It seems precisely this kind of “casual only” restriction created some of the social pressure at work during the early phases of LGBT liberation—the ultimately unsatisfactory character of this restriction (for those who found it unsatisfying) helped to drive a more visible social demand for sociocultural structures that would permit the expression of homosexual social identity. These days, neither homosexuals nor heterosexuals would accept that the expression of their sexuality must limit itself only to casual “Park encounters” or “Internet hook-ups,” yet the dominating norm of our culture—the ideology of romantic “marriage”—tacitly demands exactly hat of bisexuals.

Insofar as the norm of human relationship manifests as serial monogamy with cheating, this amply represents the only “allowable” form open to bisexuality and thus serves as an indirect proof, if we wanted it, that human beings are actually bisexual at root. What I must emphasize here, however, involves exactly the wording serial monogamy with cheating, because “cheating” has negative connotations. Whether imagining marriage in an “old” sense (where social techniques and institutions existed to accommodate “cheating” in light of arranged marriages) or according to our current ideology of romantic relationships (where “cheating” gets valued as the veritable kiss of death), either way “cheating” retains its negative connotations. In the old sense, the “worst” form of cheating meant (literal) divorce, with the breaking up of the family and all of the social obligations the marriage entailed; these days we still have this, of course, but any form of extramarital dalliance may get construed as world-ending and destructive. Nonetheless, as human being work their way emotionally through life, this “cheating” turns up from time to time, and apparently (again) as the norm of human relating: serial monogamy with cheating. But this discourse requires only bisexual people, in every relationship (with only one other person), to resort to heating for total fulfilment of their identities. In principle, whatever the case in practice, the heterosexual or homosexual person might find sufficiently ideal satisfaction in the one partner a relationship limits them to, but that structure demands, by definition, that the bisexual person disregard an entire portion of their sexual identity.[6]

To more fully honour bisexuality would require the integration of spouses of both sexes into the picture. I do not mean to equate bisexuality and polyamory—polyamory seems to me a domestic social arrangement whatever the affects of those involved, whereas bisexuality points to a sexual orientation. Nor do I suggest that bisexual people cannot find happiness “one sex at a time” in domestic settings. I suggest, rather, that by definition the available domestic structure of the monogamous nuclear family precludes support, within the family, for the full range of bisexual sexual identity. I suggest, rather, that we might interrogate whether any socialized practice amongst bisexual people to establish domestic partnerships with “only one sex at a time” does not itself already imply a rational or sensible response to a piece of cultural prejudice against bisexuality—a prejudice, again, that mistakes the character and content of the (monogamous) family as the (only type of) site necessary for social reproduction.

Homosexual males have for a long time now pioneered the combination of the “established home” in conjunction with openly toying round with other males, if not actually bringing them home for both spouses to enjoy. But this eminently sensible solution, which accepts at face-value the habits of male sexuality to the extent that culture shapes them, does not particularly lend itself to the introduction of a permanent third party, and especially not a female one. A bisexual male in this scenario might well find himself on the receiving end of suspicion often. &c. And if I emphasise the homosexual case here, I do so because the corresponding case in the heterosexual realm—that a wife would accommodate her husband’s male spouse to live openly in the home with them—seems already wildly beyond the pale of consideration. We might imagine scandalised Jerry Springer show about this topic before any “level-headed” consideration of the option.

It seems obvious that any real cultural support that domestic settings might extend to bisexuals cannot get around opening it up to a kind of polygamy. If in days of yore, it helped (in extended families) that one could move amongst multiple domestic sites (i.e., from one’s parents to one’s uncle’s, &c), we might considering dropping any requirement that a triple (the three-part version of a couple) must all live in the same space, but only if any other “external” space really constitutes an acknowledged part of the “home”. If the “bisexual spouse” must live outside of the “marital home,” then the status of the one on the outs seems little more than the same level of a “mistress” with all of the socioeconomic problems that entails.

From all of this, we may see that the hostility expressed by the dominating discourse toward bisexuality forms something of a tautology or self-fulfilling prophecy. Society fails to provide adequate social structures for the fulfilled expression of bisexuality, and then demonizes bisexuals for resorting to the one route currently available: “cheating”. Moreover, the availability of the Internet “bisexual” hook-up, which more or less adequately suffices for lusty (monosexual) male “spill-over,” does not suffice or make a valid “solution” to the full and complete expression of bisexual sexual identity for those involved in the ideology of romantic relationships in our culture. The demand to satisfy their longing for identity in such a way fails on human grounds.

Re-Envisioning Marriage

This all points to the necessity of re-distinguishing the function of “marriage” (as a social structure for the social reproduction of culture) apart from the sort of affective ideology of the nuclear family currently in vogue. I feel certain that, in the old days, a wife might quite openly keep her lover in the mansion with her, just as husbands dallied with serving-maids and the like. By this, I mean to say that because very few people had any silly or naïve fantasies about the function of “marriage” socially, then the working out of one’s sexual urges (along with any silly or naïve “ideals” about marriage) got subordinated and were set side when it became necessary to do so in order to ensure the actual social reproduction intended in marriage.

I cannot stress enough the “social” aspect of this social reproduction. The old adage, when you marry you marry someone’s family, offers no mere proverb, and out of this recognition arose (in some cultures) the prohibition on divorce (except for in the most extreme of circumstances) because marriage entailed an intensive and extensive set of social obligations to others that would also sever if a divorce occurred.[7] Thus, in these cases tremendous pressure can get brought to bear to make such marriages “work” whatever that takes: up to and including the husband mounting the pool-boy and the wife enjoying the company of her handmaid. &c.

In the main, this social aspect of marriage has fallen away in our culture; marriage has become (in our culture) a fundamentally private affair, and the articulation of the ideology of the nuclear family shows what a toxic idea that amounts to. But if we would accept the dubious premise of this ideology, which certainly offers an incoherent misprision of the function of marriage in the first place, then we should be willing to “adjust the definition” again—because our current ideology represents an adjustment of the “definition” of marriage in the first place.

The marriage equality movement represents one direction of this redefinition, but its critics have rightly observed that broadening “one man/one woman” to “one person/one person” leaves wholly intact a sort of heteronormative structure of marriage, i.e., that marriage remains always a folie a deux (or a folly of two families), and never more. We may say that the dominating discourse takes a monosexual view of the matter, where monosexual means the either/or of heterosexual and/or homosexual.[8]

Meanwhile, if we understand or imagine the “home” as the site of (desirable) social reproduction, then it would seem we should not a priori rule out any structure that supports that desirable reproduction.[9]

By desirable reproduction, I do not mean only the sexual reproduction of the next generation.  We see with utter clarity that all throughout culture each “home” does not consist always or merely of “parents and children”—many homes have all sorts of variations on this while still remaining culturally legitimate. One may see this in a homophobic context. Rom a case where the State of Michigan sought to limit and denounce adoption by LGBT community members:

But on cross-examination by the ACLU’s Leslie Cooper, [anti-gay adoption witness] Regnerus’ testimony quickly broke down. Cooper forced Regnerus to admit that he had sought to conceal the role of conservative funders and of his religious faith in influencing his research, both of which were later revealed with smoking gun evidence from his prior words. He acknowledged that he was “not a fan of same sex marriage” before he started his research and that his opposition to it was not primarily based on his research conclusions. And he had to concede that he had singled out gay couples in opposing their right to marry based on alleged family instability: aware that African-Americans, the poor, step-families and divorced people are all at higher statistical risk of marital collapse and family instability, he nonetheless had no strong opinion on whether those folks should be banned from marrying—just gays, strongly suggesting his views are rooted in bias above all (¶7, see here, links in original, emphasis added).

I do not cite this in order to demonize any of the families of African-Americans, the poor, step-families, or divorced people, but only to underscore how these structures of social reproduction do not get branded otherwise, as Regnerus’ bigotry against LGBT people makes clear. He accepts the legitimacy of family instability in divorced families, for instance, as no grounds to deny marriage or adoption even though a consistent argument would demand it—just as any insistence that marriage only serves the purpose of procreation would require, then, the annulment of all marriages with people incapable of procreation. Regnerus’ bigotry also points then to the desirability of divorced families, so to speak, so far as the “cunning” of neoliberal capitalism goes. [10] The demand for social justice, of course, requires the amelioration of the social factors that lead to family instability or any sort, and while we work toward that end, we need not pretend such unstable sites of social reproduction  lack social legitimacy.[11] On the contrary, we might well worry why our unjust social order and how it benefits from it.

Meanwhile, homes with children do not comprise the end of what we might consider as part of the network of site(s) that support social reproduction. Other “familial supports” exist that do not have children: unmarried aunts or uncles, sexually non-reproductive grandparents, the gay couple next door, the bachelor one floor down, & so forth may all figure in some way into the kinds of support structures that make possible (that subsidise) socially reproductive conditions in a given “home”. Just as patriarchal (sexist) economics bracket out the work of women in the domestic sphere as “not work,” to consider a site of social reproduction as extending only so far as the boundary of the “home” not only provides an egregiously propagandistic picture, it also proposes an unnecessarily artificial one. Since it takes a village to raise a child, we see how families (even in our ostensibly stand-alone milieu where marriage gets divorced from the wider social networks it once got embedded in) do indeed construct a sort of village as best they can: precisely this network of unmarried aunts or uncles, friends next door, &c, who further supply as much as they can the necessary supports for social reproduction.[12]

We may say then that the myth of the domestic hearth—a major part of the ideology of romantic relationships—simply refuses to take cognizance of any of the support structures for social reproduction. It asks us to insist on thinking about social reproduction strictly in terms of the “home” and not the “village,” even though (1) villages remain necessary for social reproduction, and (2) we do in fact construct villages, without acknowledging them as such.

We could call this myth a “lie,” but as Jung states in in too many places to cite individually, we would deceive ourselves to call myths lies in the sense of falsehoods. We may look, instead, at the “work” that such lies do, along with the consequences of them. And in the present case of an ideology in our social world that construes the “home” (not the “village”) as the recognised site of social reproduction—even in the cases of poor families, step-families, and divorced families, &c—then we may see in this a larger-scale echo of the sort of “subsidy” that brothels, massage parlours, and (male-male) Internet sexual hook-ups provide for the maintenance of marital relations.

In other words, in the same way that brothels, massage parlours, and (male-male) Internet sexual hook-ups function to subsidise marital relations without enjoying recognition as such (and in fact carrying instead a “negative” connotation), we may see that the “villagification” of the “home” subsidises the domestic hearth without acknowledging those contributions as such as part of the “home”. The Vietnamese wife disavows an expressly denies, if you will, the integral (not incidental) role of the masseuse’s sexual services in the maintenance of her domestic space, just as the married couple disavow and expressly deny the integral (not incidental) role of any villagizing that occurs as making possible their own domestic sphere.

I propose we imagine this as insisting on a rigorous distinction where one does not actually prevail, and moreover a distinction that has two basic “gestures”—one that incorporates (or allows or acknowledges) and another that expels (or disallows or refuses to recognize). What I would emphasise in this particularly: whether one allows or disallows involves a choice. Thus, as the Vietnamese wife desires to keep the masseuse/prostitute out of her domestic space both imaginatively and literally, so does a couple making a “home” desire to keep the “village” that supports it external to it both imaginatively and literally.[13] In principal, nothing absolutely prohibits a wife from allowing a masseuse in her home, though social pressure obviously and heavily constrains the weighting—yes or no—of any choice involved. So too, nothing absolutely prohibits a “home” from acknowledging any factors externalised from that home as integral (not incidental) to the successful maintenance of that home.

I can imagine someone saying that couples who make a home very often recognise in some way the support structures that allow their home to continue. For instance, they offer money (to baby-sitters or day-care providers) as a form of acknowledgment, or they simply express their gratitude to the unmarried aunts or uncles or neighbours downstairs. The presence of money points to a formalization of social relationships, but leave this aside. What none of this embodies involves  an acknowledge of these “others” as “members of the home”. Just as in the case of prostitution, where the exchange of money signals an end to all obligation (so that one may walk away), the money paid to child-care providers or babysitters similar signals and demarcates the extent of any involvement. It signals, “We are done and paid in full, an may make no further demands upon one another.”

Precisely on this ground does the villagification of the home get erected, such that those who inhabit the village have no claim on the “home,” which of course directly contradict the social arrangement of most historical villages. An exchange of money, again, makes for the currently conventional way to signal this separation, and thus the prostitute does not stir up trouble by showing up at the wife’s house. &c.

As such, it seems that the marital sphere literally cannot recognise the massage parlour, brother, or male-male Internet hook-up except in an unfavourable comparison. At the end of the day, the marital sphere insists, “You have no claim here.” And this same social dynamic informs the more general distinction between the “home” and the unrecognised village that subsidises it. At the end of the day, the “home” insists to the village, “You have no claim here.” Whether anyone or any entity finds this agreeable or not, it points to a social inequality which comes also with a note of denigration. As the wife may access a discourse that permits her to way superior to the masseuse, so do the same dynamics permit those making a home to feel entitled vis-à-vis any support structures (the village) that supports their home. This needn’t manifest only in a scornful way: the wife might feel scorn or pity or sympathy or even gratitude toward the masseuse, but this does nothing to challenge the demarcation, inequality, and separation that the social structure insists upon.[14] In fact, were the wife to bring the masseuse into her home, she might very well suffer social repercussions. In parallel, the couple making a home might feel superiority or entitlement or compassion or even gratitude toward the villagers who help make possible their home, but this does nothing to challenge the distinction insisted upon by home and village itself. And were the home-makers to bring villagers into the home (as acknowledged home-makers as well), then not only might they experience social repercussions, even more threateningly, those villager would have the right (therefore) to make demands on the functioning of the home. Imagine how affronted most people would feel if the plumber they’ve hired insisted on giving advice about how to raise your children.

Addressing the Problem of (the Discourse of) Monosexualism

I say all of this to point to a key resistance on the part of “marriage” (the “home”) as far as bisexuality goes.

The (romantic) discourse of monosexualism wants to insist that the “home” can deny the presence of the other-gendered spouse within its domestic sphere, so that at the end of the day, it may insist, “You have no claim here.” It wants to insist that any gratification of authentic bisexuality must locate its practice outside of the “home” and only in what social forms it finds available: all of which currently amount to “cheating” with a pejorative connotation.

The (Vietnamese) husband who goes to the massage parlour, as also the (pragmatic or opportunistic heterosexual) husband who indulges in male-male Internet hook-ups (or sex in prison), may avail themselves more or less satisfactorily of these resorts because the need that drives them attaches primarily (if not exclusively) to sexual pleasure alone, however much of  a “taste” they ultimately develop for these things.

The full expression of bisexuality—as the expression of the monosexualities in general—does not involve only (or even primarily) sexual gratification. In the original post that inspired this entire meditation, the pathos emphasised there focussed on the otherwise not honoured sexual longings of bisexual men, but one might imagine instead a scene where a man meets with another man (or a woman meeting a woman of course), simply to experience being held, or to go out in public to a restaurant to enjoy a romantic meal without the evening ending in grunting and sweatiness and full-throated cries.

Again, the point here does not involve whether bisexuals can and do currently (and cleverly) figure out how to live fulfilling lives under these  constraints, but rather to point out the roots of the socio-structural constraints in the first place and to question their supposed necessity.

Just as white supremacist culture “counts on” or expects people of colour to conform to the (socially unjust) range of culturalities (made) available to them—lest the “uppity” ones suffer the consequences of mass incarceration, entitled racism, the smug arrogance of white privilege, or outright murder heinous dirt-bags like Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman  demonstrated—so also does monosexual culture expect bisexuals to “politely” assimilate to the available culturalities, lest they too run afoul of various social punishments, repercussions, up to and including physical violence and murder, of course.

What this points to amounts to a pernicious distinction, proposed and enforced by Power, that sorts individuals between “conforming” and “uppity” types, more or less prising and rewarding the former while marginalizing and punishing the latter. I can hardly fault individuals for winding up in the “conforming” category, since the alternative tends with increasing violence toward the very denial of the possibility of life itself. And the history of both formal and informal violence against people of colour and LGBT people seems like a loud warning against any lone individual not acting collectively (because the exposure as an individual remains that much greeter). To insist upon sociocultural structures to support the full range of bisexuality, and not only to patronisingly allow and praise the “conforming” bisexuals while continuing to marginalise and persecute the “uppity” varieties, itself amounts to a call for uppitiness.

Opponents of the slippery slope will already infer from this that the one-on-one notion of marriage itself must give way to more multiple configurations, so that we shoot immediately past any platform for bisexuality per se and on into the realm of pansexualism and polyamory. Besides that this hardly worries me, I also think this amounts to a reactionary dodge. We might as well reprise the bigoted slogan that if we allow “gay marriage” then people will want to marry goats next.

If we can speak of staging-grounds or way-stations for social justice, to overcome the cis-gendered bias in culture would not suffer (I’d think) by also seeking redress for those who find themselves caught—happily or not—in the zone where homosexuality and heterosexuality both have appeal. I suspect that any advance we might make in creating social structures to support bisexuality would frame and help (on-going) efforts to critique an address cis-gendered biases. And any critique from that domain would improve any advances and proposals for “bisexual social structures”. Also from those in the asexual community who change the valence of this dialogue by just as fundamentally questioning assumptions in the discourse.

To say this acknowledges that addressing the discourse of monosexualism for the sake of bisexuality does not point to the end of the road. I would sooner have any broadening of the understanding of “marriage” (as the site of social reproduction) not fatally or by default become vulnerable to the critique rightly levelled against problematic aspects of marriage equality: specifically that the form that marriage equality has taken rewards only conforming but not uppity homosexuals .

To introduce social structures that acknowledge another-gendered spouse in the “home” does not hinge a numerical increase, such that such an acknowledgment becomes the ground for “having to tolerate” marriages with seen people in it or more. It may serve as an argument for the workability of polyamory, but it really acknowledges the inclusion of a type (rather than an increase in number). The “problem” of multiple spouses in any case already has manifold solutions from around the world, as polygamy and polyandry historically attest. The specific change that “bisexual marriage” proposes—or, rather, a marriage equality that recognises the already existing human right of bisexuals to marry in a way amenable to their sexuality—amounts to something different than a difference of number.

Opponents of this notion will happily conflate this difference of type as a difference in number (polygamy, polyandry, or polyamory) but this again jumps the gun.

We can imagine, for instance, that the radical change “bisexual marriage” might demand would involve a distribution of the site of social reproduction. Nothing demands in any such arrangement that everyone must cohabit, so that we see precisely what gets fundamentally drawn into the picture involves an extension of the acknowledgment of what constitutes the “home” as occurring in two places at once. And although I (as the bisexual person) ivied my time between this house and that house, for legal purposes those two spots comprise one home. Not only socially but also legally do our social practices need to accommodate this reality (with respect to property taxes, marital tax breaks in different states, &c). It would seem that people have negotiated some of this already insofar as divorce does generate divided living situations, but obviously any sort of accommodation that might come from my proposal would not have the “hostile” element of divorce or the (now admittedly less stigmatising) connotation of divorce.

Conclusion For Now

Toward the end of the foregoing, the topic begins to expand out perhaps to an excessive degree. Hopefully, at least a couple of minimums nonetheless remain clear.

First, I hope to have made clear not only that we should not let the identification of bisexual behaviour by heterosexual (married) males as bisexual go by unchallenged, but also the way that such bisexual behaviour subsidises heteronormative pretences of the “home” (as the preeminent site of social reproduction). Just as the wife and the prostitute engage in a sort of uneasy collusion—one where the wife may allow herself to scorn the prostitute as her social inferior—so we may see the same pattern at work here, where the wife may place blame for his “cheating” on the morally depraved homosexual who services that (reprobate) husband. This gesture of scorn itself, of course, rises as a function of patriarchal sexism. It misses the source to “blame” the wife for paying forward this blame to either the prostitute or the homosexual.

Second, the monosexual milieu of the “home” rests on a myth of the domestic hearth that itself simply fail to recognise the supports and subsidies provided by the “village” around it. Social justice demands then the articulation of socio-structural forms that accommodate bisexuality. This does not necessarily entail only to permit another person into the “home” (though for some individual families they might desire exactly this), but rather a social articulation of “home” that acknowledges as part of the home what currently gets rigorously cast out of the domestic sphere. It means, to give simply what the “home” considers as one of the most “alarming” consequences of this, acknowledging that another spouse has a claim to demand certain forms of child-care and child-rearing. It means, most simply, to treat another person as a spouse and to articulate social structures in the world that allow bisexuals (whether they ever fully resort to them or not) to have them as readily to hand as currently monosexuals do with regard to their own (sexual) identities as they live their lives.

Endnotes

[1] Here we would find the witticism about marriage and incarceration as identical.

[2] Again, we may well critique how these institutions and customers and wives look down socially on those who subsidise marital relations; I simply note the social pattern they generate.

[3] Of course, in a patriarchal culture, this means more articulation of necessities to fulfil male needs than female. A more desirable culture must redress this inequality.

[4] This outside/inside distinction articulates in the rural (or farm) model of the nuclear family as becoming embedded in a wider experience of extended families or sociability. But once you have one farmhouse with thirteen kids in it, arguably this already makes its own village and no longer reflects, strictly speaking, a nuclear family in its now-conventional sense.

[5] I have to say, the objection of a spouse that husbands engage in “disgusting” behaviour with whores has to amount to the trivial objection. The denigration of sex-workers, as an obviously needed part of a relatively unjust social structure, should prevent us from letting such “middle-class” prudery frame the issue so that we may focus on the class-injustice involved in requiring certain women (and men), almost always of lower-class origin, to have to experience exploitation in their circumstance. I don’t doubt that the history of this has many marks of negotiation, resistance, and demands to the pimps and madams of the world to secure better working conditions for this useful service. If we must have such more or less covert sex work to subsidise marital relations, then let us advocate fair pay, safe working conditions, and even social respect to such workers, rather than attending to pearl-clutching and groans of “whore!” from scandalized marriage-mongers.

[6] I do not mean a bisexual person cannot make this work. How person (of any sexuality) negotiates a satisfying relationship remains far too full of details to tidily generalize. But however a given individual works these details out, this does not change the demand, made by the exclusively monogamist ideology of romantic relationships that dominates our culture, to exclude a portion of one’s sexuality from expression, whether that portion makes for a tiny percentage or huge percentage. People very cleverly find ways to inhabit unjust social structures; that cleverness does not provide an argument in favour of the unjust social structure.

[7] The distinction between matrifocal and patrifocal cultures seems to introduce an important distinction here. In some matrifocal cultures, wives might divorce their husbands to the drop of a hat, but this in part because the wife’s familial structure permitted such a severing.

[8] Since it takes a village to raise a child, and since capitalism destroys villages, we cannot rationally expect (without a revolution first) our current social ethos to permit the necessary preconditions (a village) for the raising of children. Or widening the critique, we may interrogate the desirability of villages as forms of social reproduction in the first place while attempting to articulate some desirable structure in our own culture, as opposed to the wholly unworkable and undesirable nuclear family. We can object that social reproduction will itself never cease to be a problem, or something that will forever require critique itself. The possibility of socially just social reproduction might seem merely unimaginable in principle. &c. I don’t think so, since the problem of social reproduction arises in preferentially privileging forms of it, rather than the existence of it per se.

[9] Thus, adoption by the LGBTQ community does indeed become an elemental issue and brings with it all of the problems associated with adoption as well. By such problems, I mean those fundamental to adoption itself—such as the increased risk of suicide or suicide attempts by (transracially) adopted children or the structural function of adoption as a means for securing middle-class respectability on the backs of those forced to shoulder the costs of that—and not those issues raised by fraudulent or bigoted opponents of “gay adoption”. Such people, as a matter of deliberate social strategy, falsify or simply concoct evidence to suggest that children raised by LGBT parents suffer various (psychological) disadvantages.

The strategy is for sociological experts to sow just enough doubt about the wisdom of change such that preserving the status quo seems the only reasonable path. As the New York Times recently reported, in 2010 the conservative Heritage Foundation gathered social conservatives consisting of Catholic intellectuals, researchers, activists and funders at a Washington meeting to plot their approach. The idea was for conservative scholars to generate research claiming that gay marriage harms children by placing them in unstable gay homes and by upending marital norms for straights. A solid consensus of actual scholarship—not the fixed kind being ginned up at Heritage—has consistently found that gay parenting does not disadvantage kids, and no research has shown gay marriage having any impact on straight marriage rates. But trafficking in truth was not the plan. The plan was to tap into a sordid history of linking gay people with threatening kids, and to produce skewed research that could be used as talking points to demagogue the public (¶3, from here, links in original).

[10] I say the “cunning of neoliberal capitalism” not the “logic” of it, since using the word logic would ascribe a rationality to the irrational faith and activity of (neoliberal) capitalism.

[11] In point of fact, one might argue it remains unfortunate they do have social legitimacy not because this normalizes “substandard” familial conditions but because it distracts us from recognizing that those “substandard familial conditions” form a necessary pillar of unjust white supremacy.

[12] The nasty history of heterosexual adoption (especially since after World War II) makes unambiguous that couples needn’t make their own babies to count as constructing or providing a site of social reproduction. Thus, barren people might raise children. At the same time, the provision of children (theoretically the objects of social reproduction par excellence) to any “home” structure capable of supporting them points exactly to the need for an adjusted notion of marriage, precisely as proponents and opponents of marriage equality claim. I would say, rather, that the “adjustment” has already occurred and that social recognition of those adjustments come to the fore as necessary. To the extent that children benefit from the tax status of married spouses, why must their welfare lose those benefits because their parents’ divorce? Child support supposedly offers some amelioration of this fact but why the subsidy must shift from a “tax break’ to the “male progenitor” remains logically obscure. &c. Meanwhile, the fact that adoption becomes a problem for opponents of marriage equality fails as an argument against marriage equality. Where marriage equality occurs, trolls will often pass laws making adoption impossible, &c. This, of course, when they don’t simply make up fake research to use to lie in court. So the “redefinition” of marriage that marriage equality purports does not automatically entail change vis-à-vis adoption, even s worriers over slippery slopes insist otherwise. Opponents who complain, for instance, remain unwilling to annul marriage licenses to barren couples or those who have ceased to procreate; quite the opposite: our Occidental discourse articulated the social practice adoption as we now have it in response. And so the bad faith in saying that homosexuals can’t marry because they can’t reproduce already refutes the opponent’s claim that the “rights” of the (heterosexual) nuclear family somehow legitimizes (or—cart-before-the-horse-style—actually itself gets legitimized in the first place by) adoption. This remains unclear and muddled because the premises remain unclear and muddled.

[13] Precisely in the zone of child-care this explicit separation readily gets blurry: a babysitter may come into the home, a day-care provider might come over for dinner, &c. By contrast, to imagine as welcome any sort of incursion into the “home” by an employer other than the provision of a pay check—as for instance when an employer attempts to fire employees who even smoke in their own homes—starts to sound far-fetched.

[14] I would say it makes any feeling of solidarity fundamentally self-deceptive or illusory.

“Believers make liars,” except that, as Jung (1956)[1] reminds us, “Belief is a substitute for a missing empirical reality” (¶666), so believers do not always make liars, but only unverified asserters.[2]

INTRODUCTION

Recently (and currently), I experienced (and continue to experience) a “re-centering”[3] of my identity, by which I mean that patterns and behaviors in my life changed (and continue to change).

Over the course of some fourteen posts (thirteen as it turns out, the number of transformation in the Tarot deck, coincidentally), I have described the various inputs that brought about this change, analyzing them through a lens of chaos theory and Jungian depth-psychology, only in part to further articulate the roots of the change (for myself) and more to provide a descriptive model of the experience that might prove useful (for others). This thirteenth post summarizes the series overall.

CONCLUSION

Laszlo (1991)[4] describes how “the term bifurcation, in its most significant sense, refers to the transition of a system from the dynamic regime of one set of attractors, generally more stable and simpler ones, to the dynamic regime of a set of more complex and ‘chaotic’ attractors” (6); so he uses bifurcation specifically to refer to transformation as I have used it. These bifurcations or transformations have different dynamics, from subtle (smooth and gradual), to catastrophic (abrupt and a product of excessive system stress), to explosive, due to “sudden and discontinuous factors that wrench the system out of one regime and into another” (6). Having settled into  new dynamic regime—a new orbit—the system may fluctuate “between discrete values in the regime (known as a Turing bifurcation), or the system may fluctuate wildly among many values … ( Hopf bifurcation)” (6). Or “the bifurcation may be simply a transitory stage by which the system passes through a regime in order to find a new area of stability, in which case the bifurcation is a “window” to a stable dynamic regime for the system” (6).

Laszlo summarizes this process of transformation generally:

The system proceeds in its stable state along well-formulated trajectories, until one parameter exceeds a threshold limit. At that point, the trajectory forks and the system enters a region of [its operation] where it behaves differently and assumes new and different values. It follows another trajectory, dancing to the tune of new attractors. It is important, however, that in the course of their evolution, [these sorts of] systems describe a trajectory in their [area of operation] marked by a definite pattern. When bifurcation occurs, the fact that we cannot predict the exact trajectory it will take does not prevent us from seeing and predicting basic patterns that the evolving system will display over time (6).

Laszlo’s use of the word ‘predict’ here seems dubiously founded, but an ideological part of his exposition involves the notion that we may not only better describe transformation in the world through chaos theory but also that this better understanding will open a window to some degree of effective intervention by human beings into chaotic dynamics. Again, this seems a wildly premature claim,[5] but if we set that aside, his abbreviated description of the course of transformation encapsulates well enough my longer description in the Chaos Theory sections of this paper.

However, the emergence of the solar hyena itself gives cautionary evidence against Laszlo’s use of the word predict. I have said enough of my autobiography already not to reprise more of it in a summary; rather, the factors themselves involved consisted of:

BEFORE GOING TO THE CONFERENCE:

  • The many vicissitudes and experiences in my life that constellate around the symbolic Scorpio/Sagittarius dichotomy, both consciously and (by hypothesis) not
  • the figures of atheist as mystic, anarchist as citizen, animal as social presence, and sodomite as human being
  • the long, slow, diffuse arc of role-playing hyenas online (as an anthropomorphic hyena) and offline (as a gnoll paladin)
  • the broken symmetry of my broken car and loss of income

DURING THE CONFERENCE

  • the (seriously playful) re-visitation of the language of spirit guides and other notions gleaned during the spirituality panels,
  • my focused examination of and blogging about the Sun card in the Tarot (along with the surrounding Star and Moon and Judgment cards),
  • the opportunity of silence and explicit introversion provided by the guided meditation,

I’ve arranged these factors more or less chronologically, to suggest how the old paradigm (the previous dynamic regime) became stressed by the broken symmetry in the middle and then, through the “window” of the dynamics offered at the conference constellated around the symbol of the solar hyena.

In retrospect, it becomes tempting to ascribe a necessity, an inevitability, to the form the symbol took, specifically a solar hyena. But if one would underscore heavily all of the hyenas in the past—especially the gnoll paladin, as a clear sort of “first draft” of the symbol itself—we would have to explain why other creatures that I have played could not or did not get drawn into the critical moment of fusion. It becomes fantastically simple to lose sight of the fortuity that attached all I attach to the hyena in the first place and, had I decided (for instance) that the red panda did a better job of encapsulating what I ascribe to the hyena, then I should have wound up with a solar red panda instead, the argument would go.

But rather than fruitlessly quibbling about this, it seems to me the far more relevant fact revolves around how we (as human beings) organize our past into narratives. If the hyena serves as a kind of repository for all of the attributes I give to it, then that came about because I decided to make that narrative. I entered that idea—that complex—into the ambit of my thinking, and then (of course) it had its own life, in various roleplaying incarnations, &c. In this sense, the hyena has nothing of “a past” about it but exists wholly in the present.

At one point, I would have said, “I smoke, because I’m addicted.” I appeal to some (theoretically) immutable fat in the past, my addiction, s my rational for continuing the addiction now. Instead, I might say, “I smoke, so that I may remain addicted.” And immediately, by throwing my rationale into the future (rather than the past), I already begin to (literally) feel different about smoking. So, if someone in treatment say, “I hate myself, because my mother didn’t love me,” perhaps we might rearrange that: “My mother didn’t love me so that I would hate myself” (or some other kind of transformation. Once again, almost immediately, a different affect comes along with this modified sentence—s palpable a demonstration that what we say matters as one could want, if proof remained necessary.

So, of course those events which organizationally occurred previous to now, i.e., the entire history of the universe back to the beginning of time itself, will conventionally get turned into narratives that use “because”. “I feel this way about hyenas, because …” but the narrative I have about hyenas exists as a factor and influence only in the now, an so I might just as well change the sentence’s claim, “I feel this way about hyenas, so that …”.

The palpable, visceral affect of difference that this alone brings about—try a few sentences on yourself; “I eat because I’m hungry” becomes “I eat so that I my become hungry again”—already points to a significant factor in meaningful change, I suspect. So whyever I decided hyenas mean this or that, the more important emphasis comes not from the “because” of that and rather the “so that”: the purpose to which I intend to put that narrative. And this seems especially true—as addicts might attest—in those cases where the “because” puts us into situations where we feel stuck. We see, in fact, that saying “because” makes us stuck in the first place. It sticks us.

In principle, then, I reject resolutely any rooting around in my childhood for any cause of behavior. Of course, everything within my psyche occurred in a past (not the past); those traces inhabits my psyche as complexes, with arcs of development of their own, but this does not oblige me to say “because” in the face of them.[6] We all know the faultiness of memory, but even if we remember perfectly, I still spin myself a yarn when I say, “Because of this, I do that,” using some past trauma or whatnot as my rational, one might even say excuse.

To say this does not invalidate all of the narratives I have spun out in the above analyses, hunting for threads of living symbols and complexes, and whatnot. Jung’s psychology makes clear that the Self, not the ego-consciousness itself, writes the narratives. I may have named the hyena as a certain kind of sign, but that then developed along its own lines as well. I didn’t name my Scorpion and Centaur as such until the mid-1990s or so, but they’d been wreaking havoc for a long time and then continued to do so under their identified names, along their own lines. &c. What I resist by saying I reject the “because” involves not pretending that the past consists of something I can do nothing about. The idea o original sin simply formalizes the notion in a disgusting an totalizing way. And perhaps this makes clear why Christians so often act like monsters and jack-asses—“I sin, so that I may be forgiven” promises such sensual pleasure even as the excuse for the sin gets thrown back on the past, “I sin, because no man is righteous”.

The history of art (and popular music) shows multiple examples of artists who brought together any number of preexisting cultural forms and tropes and styles, &c., and brewed it into something that changed how we understand what we may do with art and often creates new genres of art in the process: Shakespeare’s articulation of the sonnet, for instance, or Ridley Scott’s (1979)[7] haunted house story in space—thanks massively to HR Giger’s (1979)[8] fantastic work, of course—or the Wachowski’s (1999)[9] visual seduction in The Matrix.[10]

That kind of constellation that transforms a diffuse dynamics of “chaos” into a recognizable “it” in its dynamics describes the effect of the solar hyena’s emergence as well, but instead of functioning in the social world of the public, it offers a “strictly personal” version of aesthetic realization. I would take it as proof—at least at some points in our lives—that the aesthetic impulse itself, art in general, forms a crucial part of the human identity. Schiller seems to speak at great length about aesthetic education, and I see why. The aesthetic impulse represents the personal form of what we know in the social (public) world as art.

Endnotes

[1] Jung, CG (1970). Mysterium coniunctionis: an inquiry into the separation and synthesis of psychic opposites in alchemy. (Vol. 14, Collected Works, 2nd ed., Trans. R.F.C. Hull) Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[2] Also, from Two Essays in Analytical Psychology:

One could easily assert that the impelling motive in this development [of the desire to obtain magical prestige or social influence] is the will to power. But that would be to forget that the building up of prestige is always a product of collective compromise: not only must there be one who wants prestige, there must also be a public seeking somebody on whom to confer prestige (¶239).

[3] One might typically hear “re-centering” but I do not believe that the circle represents the correct geometric metaphor; rather, as in planetary orbits, the ellipse does, which has two foci that influence the course of the orbit. As just one partial illustration of this, I wrote elsewhere:

This elliptical shape changes the characteristic or consequences of the planetary motion, to the point that we experience seasons (in different ways) on the earth. It means the Sun offers the most predominating factor, but that not only do other planets exist, we might actually stand on them at different times, pointing to Jung’s notion of complexes—as alternative personalities (or at least pseudo-personalities within our psyche) as well as rationalizing his sense of possession. Epistemologically, this points not only to a multiplicity of points of view but also to their incommensurability into the bargain; it never boils down only to a difference of semantics, but to a fundamental difference in value-orientation that cannot resolve simplistically. Ethically, that we move relative to two “centers of gravity”—two loci of motion—means not only that we have a radical, existential demand to take responsibility for ourselves but also that the Sun must have obligations as well—we do not merely spin round the Sun, solely or helplessly worshipping it while it owes us nothing more than to just keep on doing what it always does and has. We become in our rights to make demands of it, which the Pueblo people nicely hint at when each morning they venerate the Sun in order to help him up. No simply all-powerful deity, humanity must serve as his alarm clock each day, suggesting that we not only have a duty to do so, for the sake of the whole world, but also a right to. Were it not for our intervention, the Sun might just sleep all day!

Murphy (1991)* puts this another way: “The struggle is not to abolish any type of centering, but to recognize the relative nature of centers and their dynamic relationship with margins” (51).

*Murphy, PD (1991). Prolegomenon to an ecofeminist dialogics. In DM Bauer & SJ McKinstry (eds.). Feminism, Bakhtin, and the dialogic, pp. 39–56. Albany: State University of New York Press.

[4] Laszlo, E. (1991). The age of bifurcation: understanding a changing world. Philadelphia: Gordon and Breach.

[5] And thus a dangerous one. Already the economic technocrats flounder blindly in the dark at the “helm” of the economy. It might seem like a random policy change could turn out as effective as one supposedly rationally arrived at. One senses that attempting to apply chaos theory at the scale of whole human systems would result more in chaos, in the popular and undesirable sense.

[6] If only it were always so simple, of course.

[7] Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation., Shusett, R., O’Bannon, D., Carroll, G., Giler, D., Hill, W., Scott, R., Skerritt, T., Weaver, S., Cartwright, V., Stanton, H. D., Hurt, J., Holm, I., Kotto, Y., Vanlint, D., Rawlings, T., Goldsmith, J., Brandywine (Firm)., & Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, I. (2003). Alien. Director’s cut. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

[8] Giger, HR (1989). Giger’s alien.

[9] Warner Bros., Reeves, K., Fishburne, L., Village Roadshow Pictures., & Silver Pictures. (1999). The Matrix. Burbank, Calif.: Warner Home Video.

[10] How delightful I’d find it to have someone get irked I’d like Shakespeare, Alien and The Matrix—my point remained only to show how  form or genre may pop into focus in the general imagination.

Summary (the TLDR Version)

How someone misreads a book says a lot about them.

Framing/Background for Replies

If you’ve read this section previously, you can skip it.

Two years ago in 2012, I set myself the task to read at least ten pages per day; last year, I did so. Continuing from then, I now have the task to read fifteen pages per day,[1] and I’ve added that I will write a book reaction (or reply) for each one that I finish (or give up on, if I stop).  I plan also to devise a way to randomly select books to read (given certain constraints) from the public library; this, to avoid the tendency only to read books that pique my already existing interests.

These replies will not be Amazon-type reviews, with synopses, background research done on the author or the book itself, unless that strikes me as necessary or if the book inspired me to do so when I read it. Rather, these replies amount to assessments of the ways I found the book helpful somehow. More precisely—and this describes what I mean by a reply, as opposed to a reaction (review) or a response—I try to focus in these pieces on what I could not have said (or would not have known what to say) except that the intersection of this text and my consciousness brought it about.

Consequently, I will sometimes say stupid stuff, poorly informed stuff, &c. Some in the world expect everyone to possess omniscience and won’t bother to engage in a human dialogue toward divining how to make the world a better place. To the extent that each reply I offer provides a I found this helpful in this book, then it becomes up to us (you, me, us) to correct, refine, trash and start over, or do something else we see as potentially helpful as part of attempting to make our world a better place. If you won’t bother to take up your end of that bargain, that signals of course part of the problem that needs a solution.

A Reply To:  P.K. Dick’s  (1969)[2] Ubik

This makes for the second PKD book I have read (see my reply to Man in the High Castle here) on the strength of both Stanisław Lem’s contention that Dick is a writer of ideas (albeit often too sloppy) and also an acquaintance whose sensibilities arise out of thoughtfulness even as they differ from mine aesthetically.

One description of Ubik runs:

Philip K. Dick’s searing metaphysical comedy of death and salvation (the latter available in a convenient aerosol spray) is a tour de force of panoramic menace and unfettered slapstick, in which the departed give business advice, shop for their next incarnation, and run the continual risk of dying yet again.

LeGuin, who either went to school with or knew PKD, uses the word sin to describe a key element of this book. And critics Lacayo and Grossman describe it as “a deeply unsettling existential horror story, a nightmare you’ll never be sure you’ve woken up from” (from here).[3]

I can say this much about Ubik—Dick managed to put it together less sloppily than Man in the High Castle, which meanders about aimlessly for a very good portion of the text and not toward much of an end finally. In that book, the moment with Hawthorne Abendsen (author of the book-within-a-book The Grasshopper Lie Heavy) when we find out that “our” world actually happened, so that everyone in the book’s world gets de-centered into some nebulous existential uncertainty, does work with some degree of spookiness, but this does not ultimately offset the investment required by the reader to get there, I’d assert. Of course, literary critics might find clever ways to excuse this, but what they will primarily describe amounts to the reader’s experience of the book, rather than the construction of the book itself. It seems, more, that Dick provides, essentially, a short story that has bloated out with a mass of preliminary material that neither adds nor detracts—because it does not connect finally—to the preceding material.

Call this a tendentious reading and let it lie for the moment. Ubik also has problems with plot, but in a different way. It clearly sets out on a definite trajectory. Runciter’s organization has taken a hit from his enemy/competitor Ray Hollis, and something needs doing to correct it. A group of specialists set out to do so, and simply stumble into a trap (as it seems). Now, one may call this plot trite, trivial, or whatnot—a who-dunnit with some telepathy thrown in—but it at least has the impetus of a plot. And the point of view embodied in the text after the attempted assassination of the group, as the survivors drag toward their spacecraft to escape, has a nicely confused “haze” to it that matches the (presumable) confusion that one might experience following an explosion. It reminds me of that moment in Klimov’s (1985)[4] Come and See, when a bomb’s detonation renders the protagonist mostly deaf, and the sound in the movie cuts mostly out.

After this, however, the book drops away all of these narrative conceits in an unsatisfying way. Of course, with PKD one expects shifting realities, but a reader may discern the palpable difference between a reality shift and simply negligent plot construction. I could point to the figure of Mick Stanton as the most obvious case—a trillionaire, introduced into the text for no reason except to tempt Runciter into travelling to the Luna. In Dickens, this might enter the text as one of his quick character sketches, but usually those vivid asides do not influence any substantial course of the action. Here, the figure of Mick Stanton makes for the central raison d’etre of the quest to Luna, and his name gets mentioned, perhaps, one more time in the book after Dick resort to this conceit.

Partly this occurs because Dick drops the even larger conceit of a conspiracy by Ray Hollis—Stanton being either the lie or the patsy in Hollis’ scheme. This part of the plot, which largely disappears anyway while the main focus of the text concerns the explosion’s survivors trying to cope with whatever world they find themselves in, returns when it gets suggested that one of the psionics in their group has made the whole thing possible. But this too turns out only a feint, and the “real” enemy finally makes a showing too close to the end of the book. With the abrupt appearance of the actual antagonist, Dick also quickly wheels in what mythologist might call the helping animal (in the form of Ella Runciter), and then Dick finishes off with one last facile twist (doubtless because he cannot help himself) to suggest that everything we think we have read actually should have an opposite valence (that Runciter has died after all and the “other world” had reality or some other arguable variation; Dick does not provide enough textual grist to decide this).

Call this a tendentious reading an leave that aside for now as well. The problem at work here involves a contract with the reader—and I will leave aside for now any grand claim of trying to inculcate or indoctrinate readers into a new form of reading as a strategy or aim of Dick’s books. He does not seem an attentive enough writer to warrant giving the texts that much credit, even if a reader can generate such a reading for herself. In the conventional (by which I mean merely typical) sense, readers to some degree enjoy being tricked by a twist, but at the moment it happens, she should feel invited to revisit all of the text and have moments of, “Oh, so that’s why that happened” and the like. Dick does not provide that, neither in reflections on the part of characters in the text nor in any critical mass of previous narrative that supports indulging in such reflections.

It will, of course, become difficult to distinguish between a text that simply as a consequence of its sloppy construction provides a reader the experience of having thwarted expectations or that as a matter of authorial intention deliberately does so. Any claim to existential horror, for example, seems to presuppose a deliberate depiction, because for us (as human being) if we woke up tomorrow and discovered everything we knew had ceased being the case (or even if we simply had a sufficiently long moment of it) this would unsettle us (I assume) to a great degree. But we don’t get that in Dick’ book. The “horror” Joe Chip experiences arises from the increased entropy rapidly destroying him (the col and the weight), especially as he tries to climb some stairs (another vivid passage in the book), or in the merely suggested horror of Wendy Wright’s and Al Denny’s deaths, which purport to unsettle the reader (Denny’s death more successfully, since the reader gets plead in the position of an auditory witness to it).

So, any existential horror does not center on the shifting reality in the book. It begins to seem as if this element of the book remains s gratuitous and unconnected to the main plot as Mick Stanton (or Ray Hollis for that matter). Thus, we have a narrative that functions approximately 90% of the time as an “I woke up and it was all a dream,” which (again) violates the typical contract with the reader. And, I would add, in the canon of a writer who seems very concerned with reality, to simply allow the “unreality” of a dream to persist in the ethos of such a world uncontested seems especially poor work. At a minimum level, whatever the characters experience, the reader carries forward (as a virtual creature “in” the book) all of the experiences, the realities, of the book s experiences, and thus realities. Saying to the reader, in effect, “Forget all that, attend to this,” cannot function in a satisfying way, because it simply gets it wrong. No authorial feint can complete banish the reader’ (experience of) reading, however sloppily or attentively the reader has read.

However, even Dick betrays his awareness of not making good on the “world mechanics” he proposes in this text. If the existential horror does not center on ‘what is reality” but on the presence of “accelerated death” (entropy), on embodying the “malevolence” of the universe (or nature) in the form of a petulant (deal) adolescent named Jory, then he does not do so consistently. More precisely, he seems not to have clearly thought through how to deal with the “pace” of the regression or entropy going on in the text. While at one point the regression comes very swiftly (and time seems to go backward at the rate of years in a matter of minutes) at other times—merely for the sake of the plot, obviously—this rate of change slows down, or essentially stops. I may get this detail slightly wrong, but the error remains inessential: if the car Joe Chip has driven regresses from a 1939 LaSalle to a 1929 Ford of some sort in a matter of minutes, his desire to get up in the air in an airplane and fly for three days must seem like a death wish, since it could only happen that the plane will regress in mid-flight (to an early wright prototype?) and thus crash to the earth in a fiery unpleasantness. At some point, Joe Chip wonders in the text (perhaps wondering aloud on Dick’s behalf) how the plane lasted as long as it did.

The weak justification offered comes from the antagonist, or at least we have little choice but to infer it from him: his appetite waxes and wanes. His desire to eat half-life energy varies. But what makes this so unsatisfactory involves precisely the readers counter-factual to this explanation: that the rate of decay caries and correlates according to what Dick elects to do plot-wise. It represents a kind of joke or mere inconvenience when the car Joe wants to sell regresses from a (valuable) LaSalle to a (worthless) Ford in a matter of minutes, and then is a matter of convenience that the plane does not regress (seemingly at all) over the course of three days travel.

Lots of other mechanics in the novel seem problematic or unclear, but this becomes less of a problem because Dick does not seem necessarily to violate them. The claim that Ella will reincarnate certainly wreaks havoc on most of the claims to “existential horror”—if half-life turns out as something undoable, then the sort of grinding destruction the book asks us to find horrifying turns into a necessary (if unpleasant) step toward re-life. the justification that Jory embodies a problem one cannot simply avoid makes a bit more sense (because Jorys “exist” in all half-life mortuaries), but as a psychic entity, one could imagine inertials capable of blocking his psionic villainy. Moreover, while a sort of embodiment of the Second Law of thermodynamics, human life itself represents a reversal of entropy, and so already we have a conceptual “ward” against entropy, but this does not appear in the book at all.

No wonder that Lem at least guardedly praises some of Dick’s work, because Lem delights in pitting his characters against the unknown and then making them reflect on the experience of hearing their own echoes (and mistaking them for reality). Lem, however, embodies this theme in his text consciously and with narrative consequences. The confusion of a character (often the protagonist) facing the Unknown mirrors the reader’s experience (or allows the reader to inhabit that confusion). We see this perhaps nowhere so pointedly as in Lem’s (1961)[5] Return from the Stars, where an astronaut returns to Earth after 127 years to find it transformed into an unrecognizable “utopia”; his confusion while first wandering around on earth exactly mirrors our own s we encounter the text, &c. One might also note Lem’s (1959) “Ciemność i Pleśń “(Darkness and Mustiness), “about the creation of Whisteria Cosmolytica which is described as ‘a microbe annihilating matter and drawing its vital energy from that process’, creating a grey goo scenario,” though I do not think it possible Dick might ever have known of this text. Though the only US science fiction author praised by Lem, “Dick, however, perhaps due to his mental illness, believed that Stanisław Lem was a false name used by a composite committee operating on orders of the Communist party to gain control over public opinion, and wrote a letter to the FBI to that effect” (see here).

All of this said, one may wonder at the grandiose pronouncements made about this book (or Man in the High Castle for that matter)—less that people found them enjoyable reads, and more the bizarre claim that they warrant designation as craftily crafted literature. I find the charms of dick’s books (so far) largely accidental and the language of them never compelling except in two spots so far, and one of those I quickly recognized as a quotation from Shakespeare instead. The other pops up just before it in a narrative feint that Dick (once again) never follows up on. Related to the disappearance of the super-psi S. Dole Melipone (which I persist in believing is an anagram of something—or somehow related to the Greek Muse of Singing),[6] and the visitation in one character’s dream of two menacing figures (who never come back again either), the figure(s) say and the psionic replies:

“I can’t be myself while you’re round,” her nebulous opponent informed her. On his face a feral, hateful expression formed, giving him the appearance of a psychotic squirrel.

In her dream, Tippy answered, “Perhaps your definition of your self-system lacks authentic boundaries. You’ve erected a precarious structure of personality on unconscious factors over which you have no control. That’s why you feel threatened by me” (47).

Speaking frankly, Tippy’s answer here resonates as much with more consciousness of language as dos the Shakespeare quotation on the next page. Put another way, I would suspect it does not originate with Dick. And in fact, the phrase “precarious structure of personality” occurs in Young’s (1949)[7] review “Hell on Earth: Six Versions”, which begins:

The precarious structure of personality and the extrusive urge of religious experience, features of existence at any time subject to perplexity, assume desperate proportions in a world committed, as ours has been for thirty-five years, to crises involving mass destitution and death” (p. 311, see here).

I feel confident stating that this contributed as a source for Dick’s book, not just because of the phrase but the obvious content of Young’s article. Because I do not have access to the whole of Young’s review of the six books in question, I leave further source research to anyone who cares to search for it.

Dick doesn’t seem a writer who lavishes attention on his words—so much so that someone else’s words (Shakespeare’s, Young’s) stand out as distinctive. And, of course, what constitutes “literature” may seem a contentious issue. As Baldridge (1994)[8] makes clear, however, referring to Eagleton’s (1983)[9] Literary Theory: An Introduction:

[Eagleton writes,] “literature, in the sense of a set of works of assured and unalterable value, distinguished by certain shared inherent properties, does not exist” but is rather “a construct, fashioned by particular people for particular reasons at a certain time.” Thus, when he goes on to say that the “value judgements [by which literature is constituted] have a close relation to social ideologies,” I think we may take him to mean that decisions about what a given culture defines as literature tend to be saturated with political implications and that therefore works denominated as literary can often be examined in a  manner potentially revelatory of the culture’s ideological assumptions. I don’t think he means to contend that literary texts are always and everywhere supremely privileged windows into the workings of hegemony or that other, nonliterary texts would be chronically incapable of exposing such social processes to better effect” (f42, p. 195, italics in original).

By this, we may understand that delivering the laurel of “literature” to Ubik points to a political desirability for doing so, by which I do not at all mean such critics do so in the manner of a conspiracy, but simply (or complexly) as a function of the ambient discourse.

It seems significant then that critics should count the book as embodying a nihilistic and existential horror, despite the fact that reincarnation remains a suggested possibility in the book: a remedy for the existential horror at work in it. This amounts to overlooking the religious element at work in Dick in the first place, where religious means our human relationship with the transcendental, and which has specifically Eastern elements in Dick’s book: the Tibetan Bardo Thödol (or Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State)[10]. With Dick’s allusions to Jung (both here and in Man in the High Castle), the psycho-religious element gets further grounded.

Obviously Dick has read Jung to some extent. He sets the mortuary in Switzerland in Ubik, and offers a Carl Jung Hospital somewhere in it.  And though the “precarious structure of personality” occurs literally in Young’s piece, whether Young—shall we call it a happy coincidence, or a piece of synchronicity that “Young” is the English translation of Jung’s name?—found his own inspiration in Jung’s work, who might certainly have written, “You’ve erected a precarious structure of personality on unconscious factors over which you have no control”. Jung also somewhere—I can no longer remember where—proposes that our psyches might actually extend out beyond our bodies in a literal way (if I read him correctly), which points again to Tippy’s assertion, “Perhaps your definition of your self-system lacks authentic boundaries.”

We may imagine this disregard arises from a rejection of the Eastern sources Dick refers to. Thus, the alternative variety of “salvation” locatable in the text becomes Ubik itself. Before saying more, I want to contextualize this.

Dick’s former wife Tessa remarked that “Ubik is a metaphor for God. Ubik is all-powerful and all-knowing, and Ubik is everywhere. The spray can is only a form that Ubik takes to make it easy for people to understand it and use it. It is not the substance inside the can that helps them, but rather their faith in the promise that it will help them” (from here, emphasis added).[11]

This platitude (that faith in god, not god saves you) remains unassuming enough, but it does at least line up with the dominating Judeo-Christian discourse the book drops into. More than this however, we should not forget the image on the cover of Ubik (of the spray can) and the text still on the back of the book, “salvation (… available in a convenient aerosol spray”). Contrary then both to Dick’s intentions as well as statements made by his former wife, the discourse about salvation from existential horror remains centered on the notion that technology shall save us. Moreover, as Baldridge (1994) points up, in his criticism of the Foucauldian conception of power:

Thus where Foucault asserts that “power is not built up out of ‘wills’ (individual or collective, nor is it derivable from interests,” a Bakhtinian perspective would insist that, after all, someone writes advertising copy, political speeches, product labels, and popular jokes, even though those people will never be known to us and even though their productions are shorn of all ostensible marks of individual authorship and mass-distribute throughout the culture” (106–7).[12]

All of this seems more interesting than Dick’s book, by which I mean: the book may occasion a discussion of these things (as my reply suggests) but primarily (if not only) because the reader does the bulk of intellectual heavy lifting. Thus, it is not Ubik (the book) responsible for the reader’s experience (salvation) but the reader’s belief in Ubik (as a work of literature).

My analysis keeps shifting from a consideration of the reader (the individual) and a consideration of the politics of reception surrounding Ubik, its (willful) misreading as a nihilistic tale (the phrase “metaphysical comedy of death”) of unrelieved existential horror whose only succor comes from technology (the phrase “salvation [the latter available in a convenient aerosol spray]”). The remainder of the ad-text simply lies; we find here no “tour de force of paranoiac menace and unfettered slapstick”—Lem’s (1961)[13] Memoirs Found in a Bathtub represents a more deft example of this—and no one departed out to “shop for their next incarnation” or anyone especially running ‘the continual risk of dying yet again” since whether people have already died or not serves as a crucial ambiguity.

It may seem facile to compare Dick to Lem. Certainly, familiarity with both books justifies Lem’s assertion of the poverty of science fiction in the United States—particularly if we take the critical claims made for Ubik into account. If we need acclaim from some authority, Theodore Sturgeon  declares it, “A well-wrought nightmare indeed”—underscoring its entry into the “nightmare” category Dick’s work gets place; again, the Grossman’s contention that Ubik offers  “a deeply unsettling existential horror story, a nightmare you’ll never be sure you’ve woken up from.” (By the way, I remain sure I’ve woken up from it, Lev.) And Lem says his project involves: “grim humor” and a tacit (satirical) rejection of:

“totalization of the notion of intentionality”. Explaining the concept, he further writes that everything [that] humans perceive, may be interpreted as a message by them, and that a number of “-isms” are based on interpreting the whole Universe as a message to its inhabitants. This interpretation may be exploited for political purposes and then run amok beyond their intentions (from here).

Notwithstanding the important distinction between Lem’s political aim and Dick’s religious (or spiritual) aim, the co-opting of Dick’s book into a technocratic interpretation—even when we construe it as one that purports an anti-commercialism—undeftly and ineptly does the necessary work; the reader must supply (or wrongly supply) the necessary material that the book lacks. One suspects that perhaps behind all of the veils that Dick cannot help deploying, he nonetheless seeks (and even seems to claim to find, I’d say) the ground of reality, even if the human protagonist stuck in the middle of things can only state that ground as a hypothesis: an Eastern philosophy demonstrates.

In that case, any rejection of technocratic optimism that Dick offers as a satire easily allows itself to get misread by labeling his books postmodern, where the contestability of the text becomes absolute. But even Dick’s text seems locked in an inability to plainly assert, as his ex-wife does, that not Ubik itself but faith in Ubik matters. This will-to-reality, which the realist underpinnings of the novel makes fall into place very easily,[14] renders highly problematic the sorts of ambiguities Dick seems to want to maintain. Unlike Borges or Gogol or Lem or Faulkner or other exemplars of indeterminate fiction, Dick only erratically makes indeterminating gestures, perhaps because his commitment finally does not remain to thorough-going consistency (much less sufficiency) in his text, but allows himself an easy way out unmotivated within the text itself.

Why must Ella invent ubik to combat Jory if reincarnation occurs, for instance? The fact that Ella gets to reincarnate wreaks the same kind of havoc on the satire or surface of the text that Huxley’s daffy introduction of an isle of geniuses into his (1932)[15] Brave New World does. One may forgive a human being (an author) for wanting some relief, but readers needn’t accept the consequences of that desire in a text when it effectively destroys it. It amount to  sort of narrative question begging.

But these ineptnesses on the level of craft get fetishized on the (political) level of criticism, if only because critics must make up excuses for them in order to make a novel’s is course genial or amenable to the dominating discourse.[16] One might even read the “covert” Eastern aspect of the novel, as an actual or literal escape hatch that the dominating (Judeo-Christian) discourse “contains” within it. We get with this very close to the issues raised in Baldridge’s book, wither resistances to Power amount to nothing more than certain kinds of articulations of Power that Power actually subverts or co-opts—a point Baldridge refutes, insisting that meaningful resistance remains possible, and that claims otherwise form an essential backbone to political neutralization. Thus, certain kinds of Foucauldian insistences on the nature of Power serve precisely as the kinds of gestures of Power that serve to neutralize.

But all of this, again, seems more interesting than Dick’s book. As I said of Man in the High Castle, “Someone should rewrite this book with more thoughtfulness in order to actually do justice to the claims made about the ideas insufficiently articulated in this book.”

Endnotes

[1] More precisely, I will continue to read my usual ten pages but I will also read five pages per day of Burton’s (1620) Anatomy of Melancholy, a gigantic book that at five pages per day I will finish reading near the end of December 2014. I have wanted to read this book for a while, but various features of it make getting through it a challenge.

[2] Dick, P. K. (1991). Ubik. 1st Vintage Books ed. New York: Vintage Books, pp. 1–216.

[3] The purpose of this list, which does not seem improved by a measure of self-consciousness regarding the fatuousness or dubiousness of such lists, involves naming the 100 best English-language novels since Time magazine got published. Amongst the nearly-rans, the authors remark: “Dawn Powell, Mordechai Richler, Thomas Wolfe, Peter Carey, J.F. Powers, Mary McCarthy, Edmund White, Larry McMurtry, Katherine Ann Porter, Amy Tan, John Dos Passos, Oscar Hijuelos—we looked over our bookcases and many more than 100 names laid down a claim. This means you, Stephen King” (from here).

[4] Byelorusfilm (Firm)., Klimov, E. G., Adamovich, A., Kravchenko, A., Mironova, O., Laucevičius, L., Moskovskai͡a kinostudii͡a “Mosfilʹm.”., & Kino International Corporation. (2003). Come and see: Idi i smotri. [New York]: Kino on Video.

[5] Lem, S. (1980). Return from the stars. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

[6] The invocation of “Serapis” (in the text as Sarapis) no doubt figures into things somehow, at least if only in passing. The thread doesn’t seem worth pursuing, because Dick does not pursue it. It becomes (seemingly) just another convenience or contrivance of the moment that appears to have no consequence in the text.

[7] Young, V. (1949). Hell on Earth: six versions. Hudson Review, 2(2), (Summer, 1949), pp. 311–318.

[8] Baldridge, C. (1994). The dialogics of dissent in the English novel. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England

[9] Eagleton, T. (1983). Literary theory: an introduction. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

[10] I’ve no doubt that the inauspicious red light referred to at times comes from the Tibetan text or tradition. It doesn’t even seem necessary to confirm.

[11] With appropriate irony, the link to Tessa Dick’s claim has broken; the quotation remains available on Wikipedia (here).

[12] The passage continues: “The fact that hegemonic discourses do not arrive on our doorstep with a signature at the bottom does not prevent us from conceptualizing our agreement or resistance to such vocabularies in broadly conversational terms and aiming our response toward an imaginatively constructed human speaker or speakers whose words have reassured or disturbed us” (107).

[13] Lem, S. (1973). Memoirs found in a bathtub. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

[14] To say nothing of its embodiment in language, which has  very strong realist epistemology as well.

[15] Huxley, A. (2004). Brave new world: and, Brave new world revisited. New York: HarperCollins.

[16] (A critical critic might make such excuse in arguing the novel resists those discourses.)

“Believers make liars,” except that, as Jung (1956)[1] reminds us, “Belief is a substitute for a missing empirical reality” (¶666), so believers do not always make liars, but only unverified asserters.[2]

INTRODUCTION

Recently (and currently), I experienced (and continue to experience) a “re-centering”[3] of my identity, by which I mean that patterns and behaviors in my life changed (and continue to change).

Over the course of some fourteen posts, I will describe the various inputs that brought about this change, analyzing them through a lens of chaos theory and Jungian depth-psychology, only in part to further articulate the roots of the change (for myself) and more to provide a descriptive model of the experience that might prove useful (for others). As such, everything autobiographical in this post I consider trivial; its significance resides only in its illustrative value for you (the reader) and for the model.

This twelfth post continues the exposition of Jungian depth psychology and relates complexes and the person to my notion meaningful change or transformation.

Complexes & the Persona

This provides a rather apt segue to Jung’s notion of complexes. Having read a lot of Jung, I have strayed across this notion many times, but I have yet to read (I believe) his more formal articulations of the notion. In fact, in his earliest psychiatric work, he begins to sketch out the way complexes intrude on consciousness during word-association tests. In his ongoing work, as he encountered again and again similar structural presences in his clients and patients, he gradually elaborated the most determinative of these as archetypes. And at the time when I originally wrote this, I’d yet to finish the papers collected in his Experimental Researches, which includes a 1911 paper “On the Doctrine of Complexes”. My reply to that book (see here) consists largely of tracing the development of this notion of the complex.

To put this all too briefly, one may analogize how complexes “live” in the personal unconscious while archetypes “live” in the collective unconscious. Critics of Jung want to get ontological about this, but his proposal here serves simply to maintain a distinction in human experience between the sort of hijacking moodiness or possession that complexes affect in us compared to the sometimes earth-shattering or psychosis-inducing eruption of archetypal material. When I tried to quit smoking and found myself harassed (by a pat of myself) into having a cigarette or, more strangely still, when habit would have me simply light a cigarette and start smoking it without even noticing, we can ask the question, “Who lit the cigarette?” It (literally) feels inaccurate to say “I” did, especially as I want to quit smoking. Those who have wrestled with addiction know very well this apparent “other” who from time to time hijacks the would-be recoverer’s will. Or those who drive home when completely blacked out; again, “Who drove home?” In even more extreme cases, multiple personalities and fugue states may go on for days, weeks, or even years. On a much more mundane level, again, we pop out of bed, ready to take on the world, and then four hours later remain still in our underwear watching kitten videos on the Internet; here again, who intervened on our committed desire to make a difference in the world that day?

Again, to discuss whether complexes have some sort of ontologically autonomous existence apart from us bogs down in unnecessary controversies. Jung proposes this language as a way to understand  human experience. I doubt that he would have ever morally excused someone’s actions simply because they issued from a complex; complexes don’t get you off the hook, no more than being blacked out while driving will get you off the hook if you run over someone, but it does mitigate or moderate the consequences.  If you say something that activates one of my complexes and I snap at you, I still get to bear the consequences of that, though you might show kind enough to take into account that my mood made me (regrettably) react like I did. Some framing terminology (from here) may help:

Affect-ego: the modification of the ego or “I” by an emerging strongly toned complex. With painful feelings the modification can bring about a restriction, a withdrawal of many parts of the normal ego.

Complex (or “feeling-toned complex”): from a term borrowed by the German psychologist Zeihen and used by Eugen Breuer, then Jung and Freud: a cluster of emotionally charged associations, usually unconscious and gathered around an archetypal center (and so a blend of environment and disposition). Repressed emotional themes. Complexes were first noticed by Aristotle, who in his Psyche called them part-souls, and behave like little personalities (and have unconscious fantasy systems), often even after partially incorporated into awareness. A more powerful complex will either blend with one less powerful or replace it, and its constellating power corresponds to its energy value. [4]

Complexes are the contents of the personal unconscious, whereas archetypes, their foundations, are those of the collective unconscious. Complexes, found in healthy as well as troubled people, are always either the cause or the effect of a conflict. The complex arises from the clash between the need to adapt and constitutional inability to meet the challenge.[5]

Ego: the conscious self; the “I”; the central, experience-filtering complex of consciousness (in contrast to the Self, the central complex of the collective unconscious)–and the most stable complex because it’s grounded in the body sensations. A relatively permanent personification. The most individual part of the person. The ego divides into the ectopsyche and the endopsyche. It’s an object in consciousness as well as a requirement for it. Its two main constituents are bodily sensations and memory.

What I want to emphasize here involves the self-evident notion from the above of the multiplicity of complexes.  Thus one arrives at the notion in Moore’s (1982)[6] The Planets Within or Jean Shinoda Bolen’s (1984)[7] Goddesses in Everywoman and (1989)[8] Gods in Everyman, even as these seem more like archetypes than Aristotle’s little personalities. If one risks godlikeness (as described above in the section on “Archetypal Emergence”) in the identification of one’s ego with archetypal material, with complexes identification tends to get experienced as possession.[9]

It seems helpful to connect the sorts of factors listed above with Jung’s notion of complexes, or at least the parts that proceed the period of symmetry breaking.  Doubtless, the most embodied complexes in this sense involve those listed as the figures of atheist as mystic, anarchist as citizen, animal as social presence, and sodomite as human being—all of which in some way fly under the banner of a sentence I read as a closeted sophomore in high school in Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground: “man does things against his self-interest in order to maintain his identity” .[10] One could just say the Scorpio itself already symbolizes this arch-contrarian in me but the Centaur has his stubbornness as well. More discrete from myself, on the one hand, and yet also for that reason more developed, on the other, all of the major and minor roleplaying characters I have run round in my head aggregate to themselves and thus also form to some extent complexes as well. Certainly, in its own way, the evolution from the first major character I developed as an adult for roleplaying (Bronwyn) to the figure ultimately of the gnoll paladin serves as its own pseudo-autobiography as well.

And so, similarly, when I began to wear a snow leopard tail in public, this at least theoretically asserted the possibility of manifesting more than one identity. I explicitly imagined that, at time, having a “snow leopard” response as an alternative to whatever I would have otherwise uttered or come up with would mark an additional piece of social flexibility for myself. However, just as one discovers rather than invents symbols, I may have mistaken this change in my persona to develop into something like a complex, which did not happen. No more, then, in a similar way does adding a hyena tail to my (new) now leopard necessarily presage more than a change in my persona. It functions like the sort of addition of tails that the Japanese kitsune exhibits in folk-lore: growing (or obtaining) a new tail each time it experiences a  significant spiritual experience.

Endnotes

[1] Jung, CG (1970). Mysterium coniunctionis: an inquiry into the separation and synthesis of psychic opposites in alchemy. (Vol. 14, Collected Works, 2nd ed., Trans. R.F.C. Hull) Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

[2] Also, from Two Essays in Analytical Psychology:

One could easily assert that the impelling motive in this development [of the desire to obtain magical prestige or social influence] is the will to power. But that would be to forget that the building up of prestige is always a product of collective compromise: not only must there be one who wants prestige, there must also be a public seeking somebody on whom to confer prestige (¶239).

[3] One might typically hear “re-centering” but I do not believe that the circle represents the correct geometric metaphor; rather, as in planetary orbits, the ellipse does, which has two foci that influence the course of the orbit. As just one partial illustration of this, I wrote elsewhere:

This elliptical shape changes the characteristic or consequences of the planetary motion, to the point that we experience seasons (in different ways) on the earth. It means the Sun offers the most predominating factor, but that not only do other planets exist, we might actually stand on them at different times, pointing to Jung’s notion of complexes—as alternative personalities (or at least pseudo-personalities within our psyche) as well as rationalizing his sense of possession. Epistemologically, this points not only to a multiplicity of points of view but also to their incommensurability into the bargain; it never boils down only to a difference of semantics, but to a fundamental difference in value-orientation that cannot resolve simplistically. Ethically, that we move relative to two “centers of gravity”—two loci of motion—means not only that we have a radical, existential demand to take responsibility for ourselves but also that the Sun must have obligations as well—we do not merely spin round the Sun, solely or helplessly worshipping it while it owes us nothing more than to just keep on doing what it always does and has. We become in our rights to make demands of it, which the Pueblo people nicely hint at when each morning they venerate the Sun in order to help him up. No simply all-powerful deity, humanity must serve as his alarm clock each day, suggesting that we not only have a duty to do so, for the sake of the whole world, but also a right to. Were it not for our intervention, the Sun might just sleep all day!

Murphy (1991)* puts this another way: “The struggle is not to abolish any type of centering, but to recognize the relative nature of centers and their dynamic relationship with margins” (51).

*Murphy, PD (1991). Prolegomenon to an ecofeminist dialogics. In DM Bauer & SJ McKinstry (eds.). Feminism, Bakhtin, and the dialogic, pp. 39–56. Albany: State University of New York Press.

[4] In his early experimental researches in particular, as the compiler of this website notes, “Jung thought women’s complexes usually simpler and more often erotic than men’s, which focused on work and money.” Jung certainly waxes along these lines in Experimental Researches—not an aspect of his work I have an interest in perpetuating..

[5] The author here adds, “They originate in childhood, and their first form is the parental complex.” This must get framed as a hypothesis, yet another explanatory framework—that our complexes originate in some form from past features. For Freud, this origin and etiology seems to have had an absolute, ontological quality; if Jung takes up the idea, it has more of a phenomenological emphasis. But even in this, In Cirillo and Wapner’s (1985)* very aptly named Value Presuppositions in Theories of Human Development, they point out that even the fundamental idea that we start in some kind of simpler or chaotic state and only gradually “develop” represents an untested hypothesis, that such a presupposition provides a way of thinking about how human beings experience time, but doesn’t automatically provide a priori some reason to assume that earlier represents something inferior, that later represents something superior, that normal development even exists or that we should regard certain kinds of development as abnormal or aberrant. While we might, then, look to the very distant past for clues about our current problems, that very past itself has gotten constituted by us in our now; hence the saying, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood”.

* Cirillo, L, and Wapner, S (1985). Value presuppositions in theories of human development. Hillsdale, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates.

[6] Moore, T. (1982). The planets within: the astrological psychology of Marsilio Ficino. Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Books.

[7] Bolen, J. S. (1984). Goddesses in everywoman: a new psychology of women. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

[8] Bolen, J. S. (1989). Gods in everyman: a new psychology of men’s lives and loves. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

[9] Again: by the sort of automatic, unconscious, or habitual action described regarding addiction above, or in the more mundane way as possession by moods and so forth

[10] Memory playing the tricks it does, I have long felt sure this represents the exact sentence as I encountered it that mind-blowing night as I sprawled in a cooling bathtub reading the book all at one go, but in fact I cannot locate this sentence exactly or even exactly where it would fall in the text. A charming thing, given how vividly I remember the actual experience of reading the book.

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